Symptoms of anxiety and depression are less likely among people who have completed in-person mindfulness courses for at least six months after the programme ends, researchers say.

A team from the University of Cambridge examined data from across 13 previous studies to investigate the impact of mindfulness on mental health.

Their findings have led them to encourage employers and education institutions to consider including a mindfulness offer to help prevent mental health problems.

Lead researcher Dr Julieta Galante said: “In our previous work it was still not clear whether these mindfulness courses could promote mental health across different community settings.

“This study is the highest quality confirmation so far that the in-person mindfulness courses typically offered in the community do actually work for the average person.”

“We’ve confirmed that if adults choose to do a mindfulness course in person, with a teacher and offered in a group setting, this will, on average, be beneficial in terms of helping to reduce their psychological distress which will improve their mental health.”

Mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.

Known as mindfulness-based programmes (MBPs), these courses include aspects of meditation, body awareness and modern psychology, with the aim of reducing stress and boosting mental and emotional resilience.

Previous research into the effectiveness of MBPs has shown mixed results. In this latest study, the Cambridge team set out to investigate the role of MBPs on psychological distress – negative mental or emotional experiences.

They pooled date from almost 2,400 people who had taken part in previous trials looking at the impact of MBPs.

They found that these courses were linked to a small to moderate lowering of participants’ psychological distress, with 13% more participants reporting a positive effect than those who did not attend a mindfulness course.

Dr Galante added: “We are not saying that it should be done by every single person; research shows that it just doesn’t work for some people.

“We’re also not saying you should absolutely choose a mindfulness class instead of something else you might benefit from, for example a football club – we have no evidence that mindfulness is better than other feel-good practices but if you’re not doing anything, these types of mindfulness courses are certainly among the options that can be helpful.”

Read the study in Nature Mental Health.

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