Adults who actively participate in mindfulness programs are less likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and sadness for at least six months after finishing the programs, according to a new review of data from 13 research.
A study found that in-person mindfulness training boosts mental health for at least six months. Researchers from the University of Cambridge studied participants in group-based and teacher-led mindfulness courses that were delivered in person and in community settings.
They believe the findings, which were published in the journal Nature Mental Health, should stimulate the implementation of comparable teacher-led programs in workplaces and educational institutions that want to help avoid mental health problems in members of their community.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is often defined in these courses as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
These courses, formally called as mindfulness-based programmes (MBPs), frequently incorporate elements of meditation, body awareness, and modern psychology, and are intended to reduce stress, increase well-being, and boost mental and emotional “resilience.” They are made up of groups of participants led by mindfulness teachers who encourage introspection and sharing over the course of multiple one-to-two-hour sessions.
Mindfulness courses offered in the community actually work for the average person
“In our previous work it was still not clear whether these mindfulness courses could promote mental health across different community settings,” said lead researcher, Dr Julieta Galante, who conducted the research while at the University of Cambridge. “This study is the highest quality confirmation so far that the in-person mindfulness courses typically offered in the community do actually work for the average person.”
To date, the body of studies on the effectiveness of MBPs has been mixed. The Cambridge researchers wanted to confirm the effect of MBPs on psychological distress, which includes distressing or unpleasant mental or emotional experiences such as anxiety and depressive symptoms.
They collected and evaluated data from 2,371 persons who participated in trials to determine the efficacy of MBPs. Approximately half of the individuals were randomly assigned to mindfulness programmes lasting eight weeks, with a one- to two-and-a-half-hour session per week, and were compared to those who were not using self-reported questionnaires.
Mindfulness programs generate a small to moderate reduction in adults’ psychological distress
The study discovered that MBPs reduced people’ psychological discomfort in a minor to moderate way, with 13% more participants benefiting than those who did not attend an MBP. The researchers discovered that age, gender, educational level, and tendency towards mindfulness had no effect on the effectiveness of MBPs. Galante said: “We’ve confirmed that if adults choose to do a mindfulness course in person, with a teacher and offered in a group setting, this will, on average, be beneficial in terms of helping to reduce their psychological distress which will improve their mental health.
However, we are not saying that it should be done by every single person; research shows that it just doesn’t work for some people.” “We’re also not saying you should absolutely choose a mindfulness class instead of something else you might benefit from, for example, a football club — we have no evidence that mindfulness is better than other feel-good practices but if you’re not doing anything, these types of mindfulness courses are certainly among the options that can be helpful.”
No data on the effectiveness of App-based Mindfulness program as compared to In-person
To select past papers for inclusion in their large-scale study, the researchers conducted a systematic review. They collected comprehensive but anonymized data from 13 trials from eight different nations. The median age was 34, and 71% of those who took part were female. While mindfulness applications are becoming more popular, experts are confused if it is the practice of mindfulness or the fact that courses entail in-person group work with an instructor present that reduces psychological suffering.
“Apps may be cheaper, but there is nowhere near the same evidence base for their effectiveness,” said Galante. “Some apps may say they are evidenced-based, but they are often referring to trials that are in-person with a teacher and a group.” Galante, who has recently taken up a new role as Deputy Director of the Contemplative Studies Centre at the University of Melbourne, will research the usefulness of smartphone apps as well as what occurs when people continue to practice mindfulness meditation on their own.
“If you are offered an in-person four- or eight-week mindfulness course in a group setting with a teacher, and you are curious about it, I’d say based on this study, just go ahead and try it,” said Galante. “And for organizations wondering about offering these types of mindfulness courses to members of their community — this research suggests it may be a good investment if their communities express an interest.”
This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research.
Materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original text of this story is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Julieta Galante, Claire Friedrich, Napaporn Aeamla-Or, Marieke Arts-de Jong, Bruce Barrett, Susan M. Bögels, Jan K. Buitelaar, Mary M. Checovich, Michael S. Christopher, Richard J. Davidson, Antonia Errazuriz, Simon B. Goldberg, Corina U. Greven, Matthew J. Hirshberg, Shu-Ling Huang, Matthew Hunsinger, Yoon-Suk Hwang, Peter B. Jones, Oleg N. Medvedev, Melissa A. Rosenkranz, Melanie P. J. Schellekens, Nienke M. Siebelink, Nirbhay N. Singh, Anne E. M. Speckens, Feng-Cheng Tang, Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen, Tim Dalgleish, Peter B. Jones, Ian R. White. Systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials assessing mindfulness-based programs for mental health promotion. Nature Mental Health, 2023; 1 (7): 462 DOI: 10.1038/s44220-023-00081-5
University of Cambridge. “In-person mindfulness courses help improve mental health for at least six months.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/07/230710113911.htm>.
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