Mindfulness therapies can treat mental health issues- Study

May 17, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team

In This Article

According to a group of researchers, mindfulness programs can improve mental well-being and decrease stress, anxiety, and depression in most non-clinical situations. Additionally, they discovered that mindfulness might not be any more effective than other techniques for enhancing mental health and well-being.

According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, typically, the definition of mindfulness is “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

In recent years, it has gained popularity as a method of boosting well-being and lowering stress levels.

How are mindfulness therapies used to treat mental health issues?

The National Health Service in the UK provides mindfulness-based therapies to help address mental health conditions like depression and suicidal ideation. However, the majority of those who practice mindfulness acquire their abilities in public locations like colleges, workplaces, or private courses. Programs that emphasize mindfulness are regularly marketed as the go-to, universal technique for lowering stress and boosting well-being.

Do mindfulness programs work in every case?

To determine if in-person mindfulness training might enhance mental health and wellbeing, several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been carried out all over the world, although the outcomes are frequently inconsistent.

In a report published today in PLOS Medicine, a team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge led a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the published data from the RCTs.

This approach allows them to bring together existing — and often contradictory or underpowered — studies to provide more robust conclusions.

The team identified 136 RCTs on mindfulness training for mental health promotion in community settings. These trials included 11,605 participants aged 18 to 73 years from 29 countries, more than three-quarters (77%) of whom were women.

The researchers discovered that practicing mindfulness generally improves well-being and lowers stress, anxiety, and sadness when compared to doing nothing. The research did, however, indicate that mindfulness-based training may not reduce anxiety and depression in more than one out of every twenty trial situations.

Mindfulness needs to be implemented with care

“For the average person and setting, practicing mindfulness appears to be better than doing nothing for improving our mental health, particularly when it comes to depression, anxiety, and psychological distress — but we shouldn’t assume that it works for everyone, everywhere,” said Dr. Julieta Galante from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, the report’s first author.

“Mindfulness training in the community needs to be implemented with care. Community mindfulness courses should be just one option among others, and the range of effects should be researched as courses are implemented in new settings. The courses that work best may be those aimed at people who are most stressed or in stressful situations, for example health workers, as they appear to see the biggest benefit,” added Galante.

Other ways of improving mental health

The combined results might not accurately reflect the underlying effects, the researchers warn, as RCTs in this sector have a history of being of low quality. The data, for instance, do not include many people who quit attending mindfulness classes despite not being asked why.

Only impacts on stress were observed when the analyses were redone using only the higher-quality studies; no effects on overall well-being, depression, or anxiety were detected.

When compared to other ‘feel good’ practices such as exercise, mindfulness fared neither better nor worse. Professor Peter Jones, also from Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry, and senior author, said: “While mindfulness is often better than taking no action, we found that there may be other effective ways of improving our mental health and well-being, such as exercise. In many cases, these may prove to be more suitable alternatives if they are more effective, culturally more acceptable, or more feasible or cost-effective to implement. The good news is that there are now more options.”

Variability in the success of mindfulness programs

The researchers say that the variability in the success of different mindfulness-based programs identified among the RCTs may be down to several reasons, including how, where and by whom they are implemented as well as at whom they are targeted.

With a rich and varied history that ranges from early Buddhist psychology and meditation to cognitive neuroscience and participatory medicine, the techniques and frameworks taught in mindfulness can be expected to interact with one another to affect how effective a program is.

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Effects of Online mindfulness courses

The COVID-19 epidemic has contributed to an even greater acceleration in the growth of online mindfulness courses. Online courses may be just as effective as their offline equivalents, even though most lack contact with teachers and peers, according to research, despite not being the focus of this review.

Dr. Galante added: “If the effects of online mindfulness courses vary as widely according to the setting as their offline counterparts, then the lack of human support they offer could cause potential problems. We need more research before we can be confident about their effectiveness and safety.”

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England and NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, with additional support from the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Medical Research Council, Wellcome and the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport.

Story Source:

Materials provided by the University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Galante, J et al. Mindfulness-based programs for mental health promotion in adults in non-clinical settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLOS Medicine, 2021 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003481

Page citation

The University of Cambridge. “Mindfulness can improve mental health and wellbeing — but unlikely to work for everyone.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 January 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210111143422.htm>.

Help is here:

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