May 24, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
In This Article
Mental health among university students could be improved by introducing mindfulness training.
These are the findings from the first UK study, published in Education Research International, to measure the efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on students.
According to recent data, university students are more prone than the overall population to experience mental health issues.
The study aimed to establish whether mindfulness could be effective at improving mental health and well-being in medical students and was led by The University of Bristol. These students are considered more at risk of developing a stress-related illness.
How did the mindfulness program work?
Researchers recruited 57 medical students, who had been referred to a mindfulness group either by their GP or student advisor, to take part in an eight-week mindfulness program.
Students were required to attend the training for two hours each week and commit to 30-minute daily home practice in between sessions. The training, which took place between Autumn 2011 and Spring 2015, taught participants how the mind works, how stress impacts one’s life, an awareness of stress triggers and signs of stress symptoms, coping techniques, meditation practice, and the importance of self-care.
At the end of each program, students completed a survey that included a free text response. The researchers also conducted six qualitative interviews lasting between 60 and 90 minutes.
Improved mental capacities with mindfulness practice
The students reported mindfulness training went further than learning a set of tools for coping with emotional difficulty. Through their newly acquired capacity to become aware of their own emotions and feelings, students reported having more empathy and enhanced communication skills when speaking with patients.
Students reported an improved ability to manage their workload better as well as a new ability to notice automatic judgmental thinking (such as not being good enough) without identifying with these thoughts.
Students described how mindfulness had helped enhance their relationship to learning by using mindfulness practices to refresh and regain concentration during long days of study as well as using mindfulness practices to steady themselves during stressful situations in a clinic or during exams.
Mindfulness program improves resilience to stress
The researchers concluded that further study is required, but these preliminary results indicate that mindfulness training may have assisted Bristol students in reducing anxiety, excessive worry, and negative thought patterns, as well as in improving their stress resilience, emotional well-being, and professional development.
Dr. Alice Malpass, Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) and co-author, said: “At Bristol, we are continuing to increase efforts to find solutions to improve mental health among the student population. Our aim is to find effective new ways of supporting students who may be suffering from stress and anxiety.
“This study has shown how mindfulness can help students who might be struggling, in particular medical students, find new ways of relating to the difficulties that arise in their clinical work, studying, and well-being.
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Mindfulness breaks the cycle of vulnerability and develops new coping strategies
“We have developed a theoretical model of the medical student ‘stress signature’, mapping how mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can break the cycle of specific vulnerability through the development of new coping strategies.”
In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA, mindfulness training is part of the medical curriculum but has yet to be implemented in the UK. Policy recommendations from the General Medical Council (GMC), the body responsible for improving medical education in the UK, recommend the use of mindfulness training to increase well-being and resilience to stress.
The researchers suggest a UK-wide survey should be carried out to find out how other medical schools in the UK are implementing GMC mindfulness training guidelines and how this compares to what medical schools are delivering in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA.
Materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Alice Malpass, Kate Binnie, Lauren Robson. Medical Students’ Experience of Mindfulness Training in the UK: Well-Being, Coping Reserve, and Professional Development. Education Research International, 2019; 2019: 1 DOI: 10.1155/2019/4021729
University of Bristol. “Mindfulness found to improve mental health of students.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190311125213.htm>.
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