Promoting mental health and building resilience in adolescence: investigating mindfulness and attentional control
The Oxford Mindfulness Centre has for some time been working on the field of mindfulness in schools in collaboration with several partners. A new project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, started in January 2015. It is based on the knowledge that adolescence is a vulnerable time for the onset of mental illness: 75% of mental disorders begin before the age of 24, and half by age 15. By promoting good mental health and intervening early, particularly in the crucial childhood and teenage years, we can help to prevent mental illness from developing and mitigate its effects when it does (Department of Health, 2011).
Just as physical training is associated with physical health, psychological resilience training is associated with mental health. We are using the .b mindfulness in schools programme developed by the Mindfulness in Schools Project as a Mindfulness Training (MT) intervention. The .b programme is based on the 8-week MBCT course which is known to be effective in preventing depression and promoting mental health in adults, adapted to appeal to teenagers and work in a mainstream classroom setting. This programme has been subject to two feasibility studies, which showed impacts on mental health, stress and wellbeing, particularly when young people practised mindfulness.
So far two of our three linked themes have been funded. They will:
- examine whether MT improves resilience in young adolescents, how it effects their processing of thoughts and feelings, whether there are different effects at different stages of development, and examine effects among both those with poor or good mental health and;
- discover the best way to train teachers to deliver a MT curriculum and how to implement it in schools.
A third strand, a large randomised control trial to establish if mindfulness training in schools is effective and cost effective is under consideration.
The project is led by Mark Williams and Willem Kuyken at the University of Oxford, with Sarah Jane Blakemore of University College London, and Tim Dalgleish of the Medical Research Council. The Project Manager is Catherine Crane. Other co-investigators and collaborators are drawn from Birkbeck College (Iriose Dumontheil), Kings College London (Sarah Byford, Patrick Smith), the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (Duncan Astle, Susan Gathercole), Penn State University (Mark Greenberg), the National Children’s Bureau (Fergus Crowe), the University of Cambridge (Felicia Huppert, Ian Goodyer), University College Hospital (Duncan Astle), University College London (Maarten Speekenbrink), the University of Exeter (Tamsin Ford, Obi Ukoumunne, Katherine Weare), the University of Minnesota (Phil Zelazo), and the University of Oxford (Chris Fairburn, Alan Stein). The work is undertaken in collaboration with the Mindfulness in Schools Project, working closely with the two teachers who developed the mindfulness training curriculum, Richard Burnett and Chris Cullen.