A new study from the University of Cambridge recommends that mindfulness training can ward off mental illness and boost student mental health over the demanding exam season.
The practice of “mindfulness” has captured many minds in recent years as a capable approach to focus attention on the present, achieve calm and combat depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
One group of the study’s participants took part in an eight-week course, guided by a certified mindfulness teacher and were also encouraged to practice mindfulness activities, like meditation, mindful walking, eating and more. The other group were only offered traditional university support and counselling services. The study’s results showed that that while students without mindfulness training experienced increased stress throughout the academic year, distress scores among the mindfulness group fell below their baseline levels, even during exam season.
Researchers designed the program to optimize wellbeing and mental health resilience for students by promoting values like self-compassion, self-discovery and empowerment. Over 600 Cambridge students took part in the study.
The study comes at an important time. As the Guardian reports, students seeking counselling services rose by 50 per cent between 2010 and 2015 in the UK. The need for greater access to mental health services across campuses is growing, and the need for new strategies, like mindfulness training, could help.
In Canada, the American College Health Association’s 2013-2016 survey of 25,164 Ontario university students found that cases of anxiety, depression and suicide attempts have all risen approximately 50 per cent. A Toronto Star and Ryerson survey also found that the average increase for mental health budgets across 15 Canadian universities and colleges reviewed was 35 per cent.
Researchers concluded that mindfulness training could be an effective component of a wider student mental health strategy. While the study suggests that mindfulness training is a potent tool for students to maintain and improve their mental health, findings on its effects on exam results were inconclusive.