The Universal use of Mindfulness in Schools not Recommended, Study Finds

Universal use of mindfulness in schools not recommended

A large-scale study found that Universal School-based mindfulness training did not appear to improve students’ well-being or mental health (Kuyken et al., 2022).  Previously research had indicated that students and youth attending mindfulness in schools benefited to some degree from mindfulness practice (Carsely et al., 2018; Johnson et al., 2016; Kuyken, et al., 2013).  Although the study by Kuyken and colleagues (2022) found that compulsory attendance to a mindfulness program as part of the school curriculum could actually result in adverse outcomes.  

MYRIAD trial: Is mindfulness in schools beneficial

Kuyken et al. (2022) research is part of a set of studies that came out of the My Resilience in Adolescence; the MYRIAD trial that was carried out over eight years to test if students who attended a mindfulness in schools program as part of their curriculum compared to Social Emotional Learning, as usual, might improve resilience and promote mental health.  The researchers found that there was no evidence that a universal school-based mindfulness in schools training resulted in beneficial outcomes Kuyken and colleagues (2022) commented,

“There was no evidence for the superior effectiveness of School-Based Mindfulness Training compared with usual social-emotional learning provision in terms of any of the co-primary or secondary outcomes.” (p, 104)

Further, according to the study, many students said that they were bored by the course and did not practise it at home.  Of more concern is that the study’s result suggested that some students attending universal School-Based Mindfulness in schools training might have been worse off after attending the mindfulness program.  Kuyken and colleagues (2022) comment that the,

“Intervention arm students had higher self-reported hyperactivity/inattention on the SDQ subscale at both postintervention and 1-year follow-up, and higher panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive scores on the RCADS measure at postintervention, lower levels of mindfulness skills on the CAMM postintervention only plus higher teacher-reported emotional symptoms on the SDQ at 1-year follow-up only, suggesting that they are doing worse.” (p. 104)

Is mindfulness beneficial?

This does not mean that mindfulness interventions have no benefits.  On the contrary, a systemic review of 44 meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials by Goldberg and colleagues (2022) found that mindfulness has benefits when applied appropriately. 

The main point is that although youth and students can benefit from mindfulness in schools, I have personally argued against the notion of mindfulness being applied blanketly within schools as part of the curriculum students must do. 

Others have pointed out this because, as a meta-analysis by Carsely et al. (2018) points out how individual differences, student preferences, and the structure of the mindfulness program can impact the receptivity and effectiveness of mindfulness training.  This is also indicated by Kuyken et al. (2022) study, who also point out how the school teacher delivering the mindfulness program and the program being compulsory might, have affected its receptivity by students.  

Often, these arguments against the universal, indiscriminate application of mindfulness, especially in schools, are dismissed or thrown under the bus.  It has to be pointed out that mindfulness as an approach for mental well-being is not some form of universal solution.  This is a fallacy, and the perception that mindfulness is some form of “panacea” that is good for everything must be dispelled.  

As with any other type of intervention, there are things mindfulness helps with and others not.  And the issue that mindfulness takes an approach that is different from traditional mental health approaches because it requires the person to make a daily active commitment to practice mindfulness and apply it in everyday life.  This is counter to conventional psychotherapy ‘where most of the work” is done within the session.  

So finally, some sense, as the My Resilience in Adolescence, the MYRIAD trial study and related studies point out that the universal application of mindfulness in schools as part of the school curriculum is not recommended and might result in worsening of mental health outcomes for some individuals.

Main points of the MYRIAD study

The main point being that not all students benefit; it should not be compulsory, that a universal design is not suitable for everyone and mindfulness interventions are to be adapted and structured in their delivery for the needs of the individual.  And what, for me, is the ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM that anyone can teach mindfulness; you just need a few days of training, which is a fallacy and kudos to the authors of the study Kuyken and colleagues (2022), for mentioning this that mindfulness in schools is not to be delivered by school teachers after a short training but by appropriately trained mindfulness teachers how have gone through a mindfulness teacher training pathway specifically for youths and children.

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Carsely, D., Khoury, B., & Heath, N. L. (2018).  Effectiveness of mindfulness interventions for mental health in schools: A comprehensive meta-analysis.  Mindfulness, 9, 693-707.  doi:10.1007/s12671-017-0839-2

Goldberg, S. B., Riordan, K. M., Sun, S., & Davidson, R. J. (2022).  The empirical status of mindfulness-based interventions: A systematic review of 44 meta-analyses of randomised control trials.  Perspectives on Psychological Science, 17(1), 108-130.  doi:10.1177/1745691620968771

Johnson, C., Burke, C., Brinkman, S., & Wade, T. (2016). Effectiveness of a school-based mindfulness program for transdiagnostic prevention in young adolescents.  Behavioural Research and Therapy, 81, 1-11.  doi:10.1016/j.brat.2016.03.002

Kuyken, W., Ball, S., Crane, C., Ganguli, P., Jones, B., Montero-Marin, J., . . . Williams, J. G. (2022). Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of universal school-based mindfulness training compared with normal school provision in reducing risk of mental health problems and promoting well-being in adolescence: the MYRIAD cluster randomised controlled trial.  Evidence-Based Mental Health, 25(3), 99-109.  doi:10.1136/ebmental-2021-300396

Kuyken, W., Weare, K., Ukoumunne, O. C., Vicary, R., Motton, N., Burnett, R., . . . Huppert, F. (2013).  Effectiveness of the mindfulness in schools programme: Non-randomised controlled feasibility study.  The British Journal of Psychiatry, 203(2), 126-131.  doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.113.126649

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