You may have seen recent reports in the media about a 2016-2017 study about a trial of mindfulness within secondary schools. The study introduced mindfulness-based classes for teens on a weekly basis, with homework to be completed.
Pupils were assessed across a broad range of wellbeing measures before, straight after the classes, and then one year later. Schools implemented their usual offering of support or mindfulness classes, and the results were compared to see what (if any) difference could be found. The study was large and ambitious - with 84 schools and 6300 pupils involved - and concluded that there was no difference between the two.
Taking this at face value, it would be reasonable to conclude that there is no obvious benefit of introducing mindfulness classes as a whole-school intervention. Does that therefore mean that mindfulness is not helpful? An in-depth conclusion is a little more nuanced and complex.
What the results show is that uptake for mindfulness polarised students. Some were very much in favour of it, whilst some were bored of what schools offered. Analysis invariably averages these results and we end up with something in the middle.
On average, students practised only once across the ten-week course. We understand mindfulness to be a skill that needs to be honed and practised in order to be effective. If I want to learn to play the guitar or learn a language, and I practice only once over a ten-week period, am I likely to improve? Even if I did learn anything, would it still be the case after a year without further practice? It would be a fantasy to think so. The study therefore highlights that strategies like this around social and emotional wellbeing are not passive interventions, like medication. We cannot hope that simply by offering it or turning up infrequently that it will result in change.
The authors of this study suggested that mindfulness may be better suited to a particular need, like exam stress or difficulties with sleep. It could also potentially be delivered online and to emphasise practice and motivation as key principles.
What we really learn from this, from other research, and from clinical practice is that we are not all the same. What each of us needs to enhance our wellbeing and protect our emotional health is different. For some adults and young people, this might include mindfulness, but for others it might not. Believe me, I would love for there to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
If mindfulness is something students individually get on with and find benefit from, they should be encouraged and offered resources to enhance this learning. If they do not find it acceptable, forcing them to practise it will not be helpful. Instead, we would be better suited to finding something else that they can feel more engaged in and more likely to practise and incorporate into their life as a sustainable tool. Having a number of strategies that can be used in different contexts proves most effective. Finding what is right for you and the students is a matter of giving it a go and pursuing what works for you.
At youHQ, we are trying to develop a host of resources that caters for the individuality of the user. Not everything will work for everyone, but we hope there is something for everyone. Our platform’s resources are continually being developed and added to, so stay tuned for even more.
This blog was written by Dr Bear, a clinical psychologist and Wellbeing Director for youHQ and Life on Time. He has worked in the NHS and private sector for 15 years in a variety of roles across the country.
To find other resources for whole school (teacher, student, parents etc) wellbeing, please follow the link HERE. For more information about our school wellbeing platform and to sign up for a free 7-day demo, please click HERE.