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Mindfulness helps most people improve their mental health – but not everyone

Practising mindfulness is an effective way of improving mental health and wellbeing for most people – but it isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.

The main objective of mindfulness is to improve a person's focus on thoughts and feelings in any given moment, helping them become more aware of mental and physical sensations.

The technique has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly for people who regularly experience symptoms of common mental health problems – including anxiety, stress and depression – for which research has shown mindfulness to be an effective therapeutic technique.

The technique has proven so popular in fact that the it can be accessed via the NHS to help people dealing with symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts.

A new study has now solidified the advantages of mindfulness for most people – although it also highlights that some may not benefit from it.

The research, carried out by a team at the University of Cambridge, analysed the results of 136 clinical trials that investigated community mindfulness-based programmes (MBPs).

The study found that, when compared with doing nothing at all, MBPs improved average scores of anxiety, depression, distress, and wellbeing in most scenarios.

The positive effects of MBPs were particularly strong in high-risk individuals, i.e. those with the most severe symptoms.

However, when comparing MBPs with other types of interventions, the results were less clear with some studies suggesting it to be just as effective as other methods of improving mental wellbeing (e.g. exercising).

The researchers also remarked on the high risk of bias they found in most of the studies they analysed, which can be influenced by such factors as participant selection, data availability or even how outcomes were measured.

"Compared with taking no action, MBPs can be an effective means to promote mental health. But it cannot be expected that MBPs will work in every nonclinical setting," say the authors of the study.

"The techniques and frameworks taught in MBPs have in turn rich and diverse backgrounds (e.g., early Buddhist psychology, contemplative traditions, cognitive neuroscience, participatory medicine). The interplays between all these social factors can be expected to exert their own effects over and above any universally human psychophysiological effects.

The study authors call for more research into the area to help distinguish specific populations that will benefit the most and least from MBPs and that, for the time being, mindfulness practitioners should not that the technique will work for everyone.

To read the full paper, click here.


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