Psychologists and neuroscientists from Oxford University and University College London (UCL) are planning an unprecedented trial of the influence of mindfulness meditation on mental health, The Guardian newspaper has reported.
They plan to recruit children aged 11 to 16 from 76 secondary schools to join a seven-year study that they describe as the largest trial of its kind ever conducted on the efficacy of mindfulness meditation in tackling illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
The Wellcome Trust is funding the £6.4m study, the results of which will be watched by policymakers. In January, a cross-party committee of members of Britain’s parliament found frontline public servants could be less likely to fall ill from stress if they practiced mindfulness, and there have already been minor trials among nurses, managers, and schoolchildren.
Leading the study is William Kuyken, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University. He noted that the trial would focus on children partly because of evidence that half of all mental health disorders begin before the age of 15.
From next year, 3,200 children aged from 11–14 years will be trained in secular mindfulness techniques in a 10-week course involving a 30-minute weekly lesson and up to 20 minutes’ daily practice at home. They will be taught simple techniques, such as the “7/11” breathing exercise (breathing in for 7 seconds and out for 11) or walking meditation. Another 3,200 will receive standard personal, health, and social education lessons. Over the following two years, both groups will be monitored for their susceptibility to depression and associated mental disorders.
Neuroscientists led by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at UCL will test another 600 11- to 16-year-olds before and after mindfulness training to observe how it has affected self-control and emotional regulation.