Mindfulness is a form of meditation therapy focused on exercising ‘attentiveness’ over one’s thoughts. Depression is often rooted in a downward spiral of negative feelings and worries. Once a person learns to more quickly recognise these feelings and thoughts, he or she can intervene before depression sinks in.
While mindfulness has already been widely tested and applied in patients with depression, this is the first time the method has been studied in a large group of adolescents in a school-based setting, using a randomised controlled design. The study was carried out at five middle schools in Flanders, Belgium. 408 students between the ages of 13 and 20 took part. The students were divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training programme which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. Before the study, both groups completed a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Both groups completed the questionnaire again directly after the training, and then a third time six months later.
Before the start of the training, the test group (21%) and the control group (24%) had a similar percentage of students reporting evidence of depression. After the mindfulness training, that number was significantly lower in the test group: 15% versus 27% in the control group. This difference persisted six months after the training, with 16% of the test group versus 31% of the control group reporting evidence of depression. The results suggest that mindfulness can lead to a decrease in symptoms associated with depression and, moreover, that it guards against the later development of depression-like symptoms.
The full study can be found at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12671-013-0202-1.
The study was carried out in cooperation with the Belgian not-for-profit Mindfulness and with support from the Go for Happiness Foundation.