What did we find?
Mental health remains a huge challenge
In an earlier study, a survey of 85 schools and 26,885 11-14 year olds, replicated what others have found – that the mental health challenge in young people persists. If anything it has got a bit worse. In our initial survey of 26,885 11-14 year olds in 85 schools across the UK between 2016 and 2018, we found that as many as 33% of young people reported significant social-emotional-behavioural problems and depressive symptoms. The remainder were coping reasonably well, and a smaller group were flourishing (16%). Replicating previous studies we found that certain groups were more likely to report problems: girls, older teenagers and those living in urban areas as well as areas of greatest poverty and deprivation (Ford et al., 2021).
Introducing mindfulness training improved school climate
We found that a more positive school climate (for example, an atmosphere of mutual respect), was associated with better mental health in the students (Ford et al, 2021; Hinze et al, in preparation). Furthermore, the mindfulness training improved the school climate compared with our comparison group, at least as described by the teachers, though these effects reduced over the one-year follow-up (Kuyken et al., 2022).
The universal schools-based mindfulness training did not help the young people overall
When comparing schools-based mindfulness training with regular social-emotional teaching we found no evidence that the mindfulness training programme that we used, was more effective than usual social and emotional teaching in helping young people’s mental health or well-being. There was some evidence that mindfulness training may be better value for money than standard social-emotional teaching, but this was only true for one of four measures of effectiveness we used to look at cost-effectiveness (Kuyken et al., 2022).
This wasn’t what we had predicted, so we explored it further.
For the most part young people did not engage with the mindfulness training
The young people in this trial (11-14 year old teenagers in the UK) had mixed views of the mindfulness-training curriculum, with some rating it highly and others rather negatively. The majority (>80%) did not do the required mindfulness practice homework (Montero-Marin et al., 2022).
The mindfulness training was not easy to introduce into schools
We also learned that implementing mindfulness training into schools requires committed staff, adequate resources, efforts to address misperceptions about mindfulness, and even when all these are in place, it takes time (Wilde et al., 2019). Also, preparing schoolteachers to offer mindfulness training is hard. It took a lot of training and mentoring to get teachers ready to teach mindfulness to children, and even then, although most became competent, only a small minority were able to teach it really well (Crane et al., 2020).
Our results suggested mindfulness training might work for some children and not for others, and under some conditions, but not others
We learnt that perhaps “one size doesn’t fit all.” There was some suggestion that this form of mindfulness training helps some groups (for example, older teenagers) yet is unhelpful for others (for example, young people with more mental health problems) (Montero-Marin et al., 2022).
We learnt that young people who did the mindfulness practices reported better mental health and better mindfulness skills at follow up. And young people taught by the teachers who were most skilled in teaching the mindfulness training also reported practicing mindfulness more often and learning the new skills (Montero-Marin et al., 2022).
We now need to replicate these preliminary findings and explore this question of what works for which groups of children.
Teacher benefits – less burnout
The teachers who underwent mindfulness training benefited (Montero-Marin, Taylor, et al., 2021); they reported lower levels of burnout than teachers who didn’t do the training (Kuyken et al. 2022) .
You can read about the results of our trial by visiting the publications page or clinking here.