Thousands of youngsters in the UK are to take part in a major study to determine whether mindfulness can improve teenagers' mental health.
Led by the Wellcome Trust, the three-part study will feature the first large randomised control trial of mindfulness training compared with normal teaching methods in 76 schools.
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to mental illness, with over 75 per cent of mental disorders beginning before the age of 24 and half by the age of 15.
Promoters of mindfulness claim that just as physical training can lead to better physical health, psychological training can lead to improved mental health outcomes.
Researchers hope that by intervening early they can find out whether they can build young people's resilience and help to prevent mental illness developing.
The teenagers will be encouraged to practise 'executive control' - improving their ability to employ problem solving skills in the face of emotional distress, intrusive thoughts or behavioural impulses.
Researchers wish to evaluate mindfulness training across the whole population, assessing both mental health problems and positive mental health. The key outcomes they are looking for are risk of depression, social and behavioural skills, and well-being.
They are also looking at secondary outcomes, including peer relationships, anxiety, student attainment and teacher well-being.
In one of the study's phases, researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Exeter will look into how best to train teachers to deliver lessons in mindfulness, evaluating different training methods and how easily and cost effectively they can be scaled up.
The £6.4 million research programme will be carried out by teams at the University of Oxford, University College London (UCL) and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, over seven years.
Paula Kearney, a geography teacher at the UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage, London, who has given mindfulness training to her students, said: "Mindfulness gives my students specific skills and tools which they can use if they want to, it's not about making them advanced practitioners or making time for mindfulness compulsory.
"A lot of my students use the techniques they like, for example the 'thought bus', more often than just during lessons or times of stress, but also at home."
Posted by Charlotte Michaels