New Research in the UK Aims to See if Teaching Mindfulness to Kids Really Works

Posted 11/18/2015 | By HealthCorps

One of the cornerstones of the HealthCorps curriculum is supporting teens’ mental resiliency. The emphasis on this particular aspect of the teaching curriculum is based on the knowledge that mental resiliency translates into overall better mental health. A new UK study aims to see if mindfulness training for teens can improve their overall mental health.

The Wellcome Trust Study is being rolled out in three parts. It will look at “teaching as usual” versus teaching that incorporates elements of mindfulness training in 76 schools, with almost 6000 students between the ages of 11 and 14. The study also has goals that include: seeing how and whether mindfulness improves the mental resiliency of teens and identifying the most effective teacher-training strategies, so the teens can then receive information in the most optimal format with future implementation.

Teen years are an especially sensitive time with adolescents more likely to be susceptible to onset of mental illness, including depression and anxiety. Experts have concluded that in the same way that physical training can improve physical health, psychological training can improve mental health outcomes. It seems reasonable that if mindfulness training is effective in preventing depression and improving overall mental health in adults, an earlier intervention during the teen years could intercept and lower the risk of depression, anxiety and other mental health diseases.

The Wellcome Trust Study will focus on whether mindfulness training will improve “executive control” in teens, helping them to achieve better problem solving skills, especially during stressful times. Kids at this age also need self-control and the ability to access problem-solving skills when they are faced with escalating tensions, or struggling with impulse control. In the study, 38 schools will incorporate the mindfulness training into the core curriculum, and 38 schools will maintain standard personal, health and social education lessons. The trial will begin in 2016 and last for a duration of five years.

Researchers hope to also observe secondary outcomes from mindfulness training including impact on peer relationships, grades, interactions between teachers and students and personal teacher well-being. The study also aims to see if there is a “sweet spot” for mindfulness training, possibly a particular age at which teens are more apt to accept and benefit from the mindfulness training impact. The researchers hope that if the new lessons do impact teens in a positive way, that it will become a mainstream approach in teaching. If teens exhibit better social relationships, better school attendance, improved problem-solving skills and overall better mental health, then it’s a win-win for teens, teachers, parents and society.

The 2013 Stress in America Survey revealed that many American teens reported feeling unhealthy levels of stress and appeared uncertain in their personal stress management techniques. Results from the UK trial will help identify if mindfulness training should be a mainstream approach in the high school setting.


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