A recent study conducted by the University of Cambridge has confirmed that participating in in-person mindfulness courses can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults. The study, which analysed data from 13 studies involving 2,371 participants, found that adults who voluntarily joined mindfulness programmes experienced lower levels of psychological distress compared to those who did not participate. The researchers collected comprehensive and anonymised data from 13 trials from eight different countries. The median age of the participants was 34 years old, and 71% of the individuals involved in the studies were women.

The researchers, whose findings were published in the Journal Nature Mental Health on 10 July, 2023, believe that the results should motivate workplaces and educational institutions to adopt similar teacher-led programs. By doing so, they can actively contribute to preventing the development of mental health issues among members of their community.

The mindfulness courses examined in the study were group-based, led by teachers, and conducted in community settings. They typically involved meditation, body awareness, and elements of modern psychology aimed at reducing stress, improving well-being, and enhancing mental and emotional resilience. The courses consisted of several one-to-two-hour sessions where participants reflected and shared.

The study’s findings indicated that mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) resulted in a small to moderate reduction in psychological distress. Participants who attended these programs were 13% more likely to benefit from the reduction in distress compared to those who did not participate. The effectiveness of MBPs was not influenced by factors such as existing psychological distress, age, gender, educational level, or mindfulness disposition.

Dr. Julieta Galante, the study’s lead researcher, emphasised the importance of in-person mindfulness courses and their potential to improve mental health. However, she noted that mindfulness courses may not work for everyone and should not be considered as the sole solution. She also highlighted the lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness apps, as the study focused specifically on in-person courses with group interaction and teacher guidance.

The study’s results strongly supports the use of mindfulness courses in various community settings, including workplaces and educational institutions, to promote mental health and prevent mental health problems. The researchers recommended that individuals curious about mindfulness should try in-person courses led by teachers. Additionally, organisations interested in offering mindfulness courses to their communities should consider this research as an indication of the potential benefits.

While the study confirms the positive effects of mindfulness courses, it also acknowledges the need for further research on the effectiveness of mindfulness apps and individual mindfulness practices. Future investigations will explore these areas to understand their impact on mental health better.

Depression and other prevalent mental health conditions continue to pose significant challenges worldwide, contributing to a substantial burden on society (Vos, T. et al., 2015). According to statistics from 2015, it was estimated that 4.4% of the global population was affected by depression, while anxiety disorders affected 3.6% of individuals (WHO, 2917). Alarmingly, the prevalence of anxiety and depression has shown an upward trend, increasing by 14.9% and 18.4%, respectively, between 2005 and 2015 (Vos, T. et al., 2016). This increase is particularly concerning considering the efforts to expand access to treatment for common mental health disorders.

Reference: “Systematic review and individual participant data meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials assessing mindfulness-based programs for mental health promotion” by Julieta Galante et al., 10 July 2023, Nature Mental Health. DOI: 10.1038/s44220-023-00081-5