Can mindfulness protect against mental illness? Wellcome Trust funds £6.4m study on thousands of UK schoolchildren to find out

Clara Guibourg
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Can mindfulness protect against mental disorders? (Source: Getty)

Can mindfulness help protect against mental illness? Thousands of UK teenagers are taking part in a large experiment to find out.

Some 6,000 teens at schools across the UK will be getting lessons in mindfulness as the Wellcome Trust is putting £6.4m towards a large study into how mindfulness works on adolescents. The point of the experiment is to see whether the practice can protect against mental illness, as 75 per cent of mental disorders begin before the age of 24.

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The teenage participants will be getting school lessons in “mind exercises” to help them focus on the present, from deep breathing to a practice known as “thought buses”, where thoughts are seen as buses, that we choose to board or not.

Paula Kearney, a geography teacher at the UCL Academy in North London, has given her students mindfulness training and said that she’s had “positive feedback” about it:

I find that mindfulness techniques are used by different students in different ways, for example some might prefer breathing techniques, whereas others find visualising thoughts more helpful.

Mindfulness has become hugely hyped in recent years, but stems from ancient Buddhist meditation practices. Essentially, its about paying more attention to the present moment, and learning to actively observe one’s thoughts and feelings.

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In the study, research teams from UCL, Oxford University and the University of Exeter will be following the moods of 6,000 teens aged 11-14, as half attend mindfulness classes and half just their regular classes.

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