I thoroughly enjoyed watching the 2017 London Marathon on TV from the comfort of my armchair. Many moons ago I hobbled around that course. It was such a brilliant day. Boiling hot – perhaps not the right temperature for running the 26.2 mile route but I love the sunshine – and so many wonderful people turned up to line the course shouting out words of encouragement and support.
So I was thrilled to see the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry doing the same this year, as well as handing out medals and promoting the Heads Together campaign, which aims to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health. Earlier this month, they were filmed in Kensington Palace discussing how simple conversations can change the direction of an entire life and covered topics ranging from the emotional changes new parents can experience to bereavement and the stresses of modern childhood.
“Listening to someone without judgement is crucial”
Listening to someone without judgement is crucial. Rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson, who has suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, made a pertinent point in this interview with Relax Ya Self To Health. “In my eyes, offering your own beliefs from your own reality to ‘correct’ someone who is struggling so badly in theirs was and always will be a dangerous game.”
Jonny practises meditation to help calm his mind. And it’s an exercise that’s being taken seriously in schools. More than 4,000 teachers in the UK are trained in mindfulness – the trendy word for meditation. In fact, Oxford University is currently investigating whether mindfulness can help 11-16-year-olds manage their feelings, prevent mental health problems, and promote resilience.
“More than 75% of mental disorders begin before the age of 24 and half by the age of 15”
The seven-year £6.4 million Wellcome Trust-funded study of almost 6,000 young people – the largest of its kind – is also being conducted in collaboration with the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the University of Exeter, and concludes in 2021. More than 75% of mental disorders begin before the age of 24 and half by the age of 15, according to the Wellcome Trust. Their ongoing research is based on the theory that, just as physical training is associated with improved physical health, psychological resilience training is associated with better mental health outcomes.
By promoting good mental health and intervening in crucial teenage years, researchers are seeking to understand whether they can build young people’s resilience and help prevent mental illness developing.
“Mindfulness is a form of ‘mind exercise’ as it’s a way that we can improve our mental health,” said Professor Willem Kuyken, professor of clinical psychology and one of the study’s lead researcher’s. “Just as brushing your teeth or going for a run are well-known ways of protecting general physical health, mindfulness exercises develop mental fitness and resilience. What this project is trying to establish is whether teaching teenagers mindfulness techniques can improve their attention and resilience, two key skills for maintaining good mental health.”
“Mindfulness exercises develop mental fitness and resilience”
Dr Kuyken, described the preliminary findings on the benefits as ‘promising’. “We need to get more evidence that this is an effective way of helping young people. In this study, we’re randomising half the schools to mindfulness and the other half to normal good pastoral care. We’re then going to compare the two and see if mindfulness adds value. We want to establish whether the science bears out that it’s as promising as the preliminary evidence suggests.”
Earlier this year I interviewed Shaun Fenton, the headteacher of Reigate Grammar in Surrey, a forward-thinking school, which has trained all of its teachers in mindfulness.
I also spoke with pupils who had used the technique to cope with exam stress and the pressure of growing up in a digital age. It was fascinating listening to them and one of the girls even revealed how she had taught her mum a few breathing techniques to help calm the mind and body. Read the article here to see how mindfulness worked for them.