A new UK research project is probing into the role of mindfulness as an intervention that improves students’ mental health and academic performance. The Wellcome Trust study is a seven-year long randomized trial on mindfulness training that will involve about 6,000 British students ages 11 to 14.
The £6.4 million study seeks to understand how mindfulness — promoting awareness of the present moment — can boost concentration and enhance academic performance in students as a result. The researchers also hope they can understand the best way to help teens become mentally resilient and prevent mental illnesses from developing.
The Wellcome Trust organization states that teens are in a critical stage of life in terms of mental health:
“Teenage years are a vulnerable time in terms of onset of mental illness, with over 75% of mental disorders beginning before the age of 24 and half by the age of 15. “
The study, which will be carried out by expert teams at the University of Oxford, the University College of London and the Medical Research Council, will provide 10 mindfulness lessons.
The training will be part of the students’ normal curriculum and will involve about 6,000 students from 76 UK schools. Half the students will participate in the mindfulness training classes and the rest, for comparison purposes, will take personal and social education classes.
For a smaller group, lab tests and brain scans will take place to offer additional insights to the researchers. The project will begin in 2016 and will go on for five years followed by a two-year follow-up for every participating student.
Previous findings report that practicing mindfulness through meditation and yoga can help adults alleviate depression symptoms and concentrate better.
The large-scale project will also involve experimental research to help identify the most effective training methodology for teaching mindfulness to children.
The research project will also attempt to gauge the impact of mindfulness on students’ mental resilience. The project rests on the idea that if physical training improves physical health, then psychological resilience training can contribute to better mental health.
“Mindfulness as a technique has become very popular,” Raliza Stoyanova of the Neuroscience and Mental Health team at the Wellcome Trust charity said. “We want to take that enthusiasm … but delve deeper into the scientific basis for the technique.”
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, the project’s principal investigator from the University College of London, highlights the importance of early development of mental health in teens:
“It is becoming clear to neuroscientists that early teenage years are a crucial time for brain development, particularly in brain regions responsible for decision-making, emotion regulation and social understanding.
Part of the training students will get is an activity called ‘thought buses’ in which students are encouraged to visualize their thoughts as buses they choose to board on or not.