Stressed students find solace in mindfulness – Cambridge study

Research supported by CPFT and published today has found that mindfulness training can help support students at risk of mental health problems.

Stressed students find solace in mindfulness – Cambridge study
19 December 2017
Research supported by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) and published today has found that mindfulness training can help support students at risk of mental health problems.
In total, 616 students took part in the study and were randomised across two groups. Both groups were offered access to comprehensive centralised support at the University of Cambridge Counselling Service in addition to support available from the university and its colleges, and from health services including the NHS. Half of the students were also offered the Mindfulness Skills for Students course weekly consisting of face-to-face, group-based sessions and they were also encouraged to also practise at home.
The mindfulness course led to lower distress scores after the course and during the exam term compared with students who only received the usual support. Mindfulness participants were a third less likely than other participants to have scores above a threshold commonly seen as meriting mental health support. Distress scores for the mindfulness group during exam time fell below their levels as measured at the start of the study, before exam time, whereas the students who received the standard support became increasingly stressed as the academic year progressed.
The researchers also looked at other measures, such as self-reported wellbeing. They found that mindfulness training improved wellbeing during the exam period when compared with the usual support.
The study is published today in Lancet Public Health.
Professor Peter Jones, honorary consultant psychiatrist at CPFT and Professor of Psychiatry at the Department of Psychiatry, said: “The evidence is mounting that mindfulness training can help people cope with accumulating stress. While these benefits may be similar to some other preventative methods, mindfulness could be a useful addition to the interventions already delivered by university counselling services. It appears to be popular, feasible, acceptable and without stigma.” 
Dr Julieta Galante, from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge and who led the study, said: “This is, to the best of our knowledge, the most robust study to date to assess mindfulness training for students, and backs up previous studies that suggest it can improve mental health and wellbeing during stressful periods.”
Géraldine Dufour from the University of Cambridge’s Counselling Service said: “Given the increasing demands on student mental health services, we wanted to see whether mindfulness could offer an additional way of supporting students during the most challenging period of their university years.”  Dufour is one of the authors of a study that set out to test the effectiveness of mindfulness.
The research was supported by the National Institute for Health (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East of England, hosted by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, and the University of Cambridge.
Notes to editors
1.       About Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) is a health and social care organisation, providing integrated community, mental health and learning disability services, across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and children’s community services in Peterborough. We support around 100,000 people each year and employ more than 3,900 staff. Our largest bases are at the Cavell Centre, Peterborough, and Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, but our staff are based in over 90 locations. We are a University of Cambridge Teaching Trust and member of Cambridge University Health Partners, working together with the University of Cambridge Clinical School.
2.       While the prevalence of anxiety and depression among first year undergraduates is lower than the general population, it increases to overtake this during their second year. The number of students accessing counselling services in UK universities grew by 50% from 2010 to 2015, surpassing the growth in the number of students during the same period. There is little consensus as to whether students are suffering more mental disorders, are less resilient than in the past or whether there is less stigma attached to accessing support. Regardless, mental health support services for students are becoming stretched.
3.       Recent years have seen increasing interest in mindfulness, a means of training attention for the purpose of mental wellbeing based on the practice of meditation. There is evidence that mindfulness training can improve symptoms of common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, there is little robust evidence on the effectiveness of mindfulness training in preventing such problems in university students.
4.       Half of the cohort (309 students) were offered the Mindfulness Skills for Students course. This consisted of eight weekly, face-to-face, group-based sessions based on the course book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, adapted for university students. Students were encouraged to also practice at home, starting with eight minute meditations, and increasing to about 15-25 minutes per day, as well as other mindfulness practices such as a mindful walking and mindful eating. Students in the other half of the cohort were offered their mindfulness training the following year.
5.       The researchers assessed the impact of the mindfulness training on stress (termed ‘psychological distress’) during the main, annual examination period in May and June 2016, the most stressful weeks for most students. They measured this using the CORE-OM, a generic assessment used in many counselling services.
6.       As a thank you for participating, students were offered high street vouchers upon completion of a questionnaire, with the option of donating the voucher to a named charity. Students who had completed the mindfulness training were much more likely to donate their vouchers than the other group (61% versus 45% post-intervention; 58% versus 44% during the examination period). This is consistent with other studies that suggest that mindfulness promotes altruism.
Contact details
For more information please contact:
Adrian Ient
Communications Manager
T 01223 219470

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

IIP-logo-reversed Mindful-employer NHS-Employers-web Triangle-of-Care-member Twitter Logo Youtube Logo Facebook Logo Instagram Logo Wordpress Logo