The Narrow-Minded Approach to Managing Mental Health.

There was a recent MYRIAD (My Resilience in Adolescence) study that looked to see if a School-based Mindfulness (SBMT) curriculum was worth rolling out to schools across the UK; the findings were that it didn’t make any really difference and that most of the children found it boring.

This study has raised a couple of concerns for me, and it’s not about the study itself, it’s mainly about how it was reported and that the people who create these curriculums seem to have no clue about mental health and how best to manage it.

What drew my attention to this study was an article on the BBC website with the headline ‘School mindfulness lessons don’t work for teenagers, study says’ the article goes on to say, ‘Giving teenagers mindfulness lessons at school to boost wellbeing is largely a waste of time, a major UK study has found’.

I’ve read some of the findings (well, what I could understand anyway) and my problem is that the BBC article was rather misleading.  The MYRIAD study was not looking at mindfulness as a whole, it’s aim was to see if this SBMT curriculum works; from what I’ve read they are saying that it’s this particular curriculum that doesn’t work.

I’ve struggled to find out what SBMT is and how it works.  The MYRIAD report states that it ‘comprised paychoeducation, using mainstream educational methods and very brief mindfulness practices delivered by schoolteachers who had undergone bespoke training’.  Still clear as mud especially as to what the ‘mindfulness practice’ was.  Pictures attached to other articles show kids sitting crossed legged on the floor quietly meditating so I’m assuming this was the practice – and they wondered why kids found it boring!

This study took 8 years and included 84 secondary schools and 8376 students aged 11-13, I think I could have told them in less than 8 minutes that this type of mindfulness practice wouldn’t work, and most parents could tell them that trying to get kids to sit still would be a challenge.

It’s also not clear what the students were told about mindfulness, so there seems a lot of missing information to me (unless I’ve missed it in the report?).  Also, don’t teachers have enough on their plates to now be expected to teach mindfulness as well?

The report goes on to state that ‘Possibly a more engaging format, curriculum with different focus (eg, key mechanisms of risk/resilience), pedagogical approach (eg, facilitating the acquisition of these skills), length of the curriculum (eg, shorter but more frequent sessions) or mode of delivery (eg, by more highly trained teachers) may have been more accessible, engaging, and effective.  A recent study observed that expert facilitators teaching a multi-component SEL curriculum in a full-time basis may be effective.’

So, the BBC’s headline that mindfulness doesn’t work is inaccurate, it’s the specific curriculum that doesn’t work.

It also seems apparent that none of the experts who created this curriculum asked kids what they thought would help them?  We have an ongoing problem where people think they know what others need or want; I appreciate they’re ‘experts’ and are qualified, but knowing the theory is very different to lived experience; To me if you want to help someone you ask them what they need?

I’ll do a blog on my understanding of mindfulness later, but for now I’ll tell you that there is so much more to it, it can be a useful tool, and there are different ways to practise it that can be more engaging for children.

It’s the BBC’s sloppy reporting that really frustrates me because it’s not helping, in fact it’s making things worse; a lot of people will just read the headline and maybe the first couple of paragraphs and that could be enough for them to discount mindfulness as useful tool, which in my view is irresponsible, especially as they are a mainstream media outlet.

This leads me onto my second irritation; why are organisations so narrow minded on what can help improve someone’s mental health?

We have the NHS that only endorses medication, CBT and counselling; the Department for Work and Pensions (benefits system) discriminates against those who chose not to take prescribed medication and don’t see counselling a suitable therapy for anger issues; and now here’s another group who think mindfulness is the answer for improving kids’ mental health.  I might just find a brick wall and bang my head against it!

As regular readers of my blog will know, I’ve done a lot of research on mental illness and how to manage it, and I’ve learnt that it’s such a complex subject and there is no ‘one-size’ fits all cure, trust me, if there was, I’d be doing it!

Managing mental health comes down to the individual because we are all unique, including our experience and the environment we live in.  We may have similar experiences but how they play out and how we react can be very different; this mean that the support people receive must be flexible to accommodate this.

I believe mindfulness can help kids, but only in certain circumstances such as calming yourself before an exam or speaking in-front of classmates.  It’s not really going to help if you are being bullied or being abused at home.

The treatment must match the problem.

“If I physically hurt myself – I get in a car accident and my guts are hanging out – don’t send me to a chiropractor.  And I don’t need a massage therapist, and homeopathy is really not going to help.  I want a surgeon.”

Bruce Lipton, PhD

There’s a bigger picture to consider when looking at helping improve mental health; it’s a complex jigsaw puzzle with so many pieces including lifestyle choices, the environment we live in, exposure to social media and genetic vulnerabilities; how can one thing really treat all of that? 

For a long-term solution we need to sort out the root causes whilst helping people cope in the shorter term.

“You’ve got to get to the root cause of your disease if you’re going to find freedom.  People are looking to solutions without looking at, ‘why do I have the problem in the first place?’”

Peter Crone

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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