By – Shyamal Sinha
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
Mindfulness is derived from sati, a significant element of Buddhist traditions, and based on Zen, Vipassanā, and Tibetan meditation techniques.
As many as 370 schools in England are taking part in one of the largest mental health trials in the world, bringing a range of techniques—from mindfulness practices to muscle relaxation methods and breathing exercises—aimed at teaching children how to regulate and balance their emotional and mental well-being in a world of increasingly rapid change.
A foundational practice in the more than 2,500-year-old Buddhist tradition, mindfulness has in recent years been gaining growing traction in more secular sectors of society as its efficacy and importance as a fundamental cornerstone of mental and emotional well-being is increasingly recognized by researchers and mental health practitioners. The newly launched trials in England, the latest example of the growing mainstream acceptance of mindfulness practices, follow the publication in November last year of the results of a 2017 survey by Britain’s National Health Service, which indicated that one in eight children in England aged from 5–19 exhibited symptoms of at least one mental disorder.
Through the school trials, researchers will explore the efficacy of different techniques and approaches for children, recognizing the significant amount of their daily lives they spend at school, as well as the crucial effect teachers can have in identifying behavioral and emotional changes among their students. The two-year program will continue until 2021 as researchers seek to determine which techniques and practices will most benefit young students and support their mental health.
“As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children, while potentially making others worse,” said Britain’s education secretary Damian Hinds. “Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face.” (Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families)
The trials will test five different approaches, including two focused on increasing awareness among secondary school students through short information sessions led by a specialist instructor or by trained teachers. Students in both primary and secondary schools, meanwhile, will learn three lighter-touch approaches, such as exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing techniques, and relaxation methods, along with teaching children how to create and sustain support networks among their fellow students.
“To support this, we’re introducing compulsory health education in all schools, within which children will start to be introduced gradually to issues around mental health, wellbeing and happiness right from the start of primary school,” Hinds explained. “We are rolling out significant additional resources to schools to improve mental health provision at an earlier stage through the Government’s Green Paper proposals, including awareness of ‘mental health first aid’ techniques and teams of trained mental health staff to work with and in schools.” (Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families)
The mental health trial is being undertaken by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in cooperation with University College London.
“This world-leading research, which we at the Anna Freud Centre are proud to be leading . . . has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools across England,” said Dr. Jessica Deighton of the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. (Independent)
Concurrent with the mental health trial, the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families will also lead a consortium conducting a pilot series of mental health and well-being assessment methodologies in nine areas across England for children entering the care system. According to the center, an estimated half of all children in care meet the criteria for a possible mental health disorder, compared with one in 10 children outside the care system.
“We’re excited to begin working with sites on this important project. A new assessment framework is to be introduced, with the child or young person at the heart of these assessments,” said Sheila Redfern, head of Service, Specialist Trauma, and Maltreatment, at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families. “The approach will be more relational, include the young person’s carer, and bring together views of those around the child. The aim is to increase awareness of the level of the young person’s mental health needs and create a shared understanding of these needs across the important people in the child’s network.” (Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families)
“Every day our frontline services see children and teenagers struggling to get to grips with how they fit into the increasingly complex modern world—contending with things like intense pressure at school, bullying or problems at home, all while being bombarded by social media,” said Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns at Action for Children, a British charity committed to helping vulnerable children. “It’s really encouraging to see the Government taking action to tackle the children’s mental health crisis by trialling different approaches in schools. We know from our own school programs how vital it is to step in early with support to stop problems in their tracks.” (itv News)
Mindfulness is gaining a growing popularity as a practice in daily life, apart from Buddhist insight meditation and its application in clinical psychology.