Mindfulness is Being Added to the Curriculum of English Schools

370 Schools are participating in what is being called the world's largest study to improve youth mental health


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Students in England already learn about the essential subjects like math, science, reading, and history, but now, up to 370 schools have added something new to the curriculum: mindfulness.

The children and teens are learning mindfulness exercises, relaxation techniques and breathing exercises that will help the students learn how to regulate their emotions along with sessions with mental health experts according to a February 2019 UK government news release.

The program is part of the world's most extensive study to see what coping techniques work best for young people in a world filled with constant change and will run until 2021.

“As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children,” Damian Hinds, the British education secretary, said in the news release.

"Schools and teachers don’t have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools. These trials are key to improving our understanding of how practical, simple advice can help young people cope with the pressures they face," Hinds said.

The students are being introduced to mindfulness gradually beginning with the youngest primary school classes according to the news release.

This initiative follows after a survey from the National Health Service found that one in eight school-aged children had a mental disorder in 2017. These included emotional and behavioral disorders, hyperactivity as well as children who were on the spectrum or suffered from eating disorders.

Anxiety and depression were the most common and affected one in 12 children and adolescents, mostly girls. Imran Hussain, the director of policy and campaigns for Action for Children, a British charity, in the United Kingdom, told The New York Times that it is a “children’s mental health crisis.”

“Every day our front-line services see children and teenagers struggling to get to grips with how they fit into the increasingly complex modern world — contending with things like intense pressure at school, bullying or problems at home, all while being bombarded by social media,” Hussain said in the news release. “Services like these can lessen the anxiety, pain and anguish that some teens go through, but also reduce their need for intensive support further down the line.”

The study is being led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London and is now recruiting more primary and secondary schools to join the trials which have been designed to explore the impact of different approaches in the schools.

The Anna Freud Centre will also run a mental health assessment pilot that is looking to improve the assessment of children entering into the mental care system. The current system is leaving many children undiagnosed and not getting the services they need according to the news release.

"We know schools have a strong commitment to supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing but have had little clear guidance about the best ways to approach this. We want children and young people, parents and teachers to be confident that mental health in schools has an absolutely robust evidence base," said Dr. Jessica Deighton from Anna Freud.

This is not the first-time mindfulness is being used by schools to provide better coping skills. In 2016, the Robert W. Coleman Elementary school in Baltimore replaced detention with a  meditation room where kids could practice breathing, yoga, and stretching exercises instead.

One child who was sent into the "Mindful Moment Room" for pushing and name-calling another student told CNN, “I did some deep breathing, had a little snack, and I got myself together. Then I apologized to my class.”

The children also begin and end their school day with a 15-minute guided meditation broadcast over the intercom system. It all appears to be working according to Tamar Mendelson, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

She told CNN, "These kids who are dealing with high-stress situations a lot of the time are coming into school on high alert. Their body's alarm system is switched way on, so they may be primed for fight or flight and not able to sit calmly and pay attention. But giving these kids the chance to breathe deeply, to focus their attention on themselves rather than what's going on externally, can be an effective way to combat the stress, improve attention and usher in calm."

These programs are not a quick fix to the societal issues that are stressing students, or a replacement for mental health services. They are, however, a way to introduce coping skills and techniques to stop behavioral issues into the schools after all that’s where children spend most of their days.

“It’s not just to make them feel better in the short-term,” Deighton told the NY Times, “but to better equip them for later in life.” That itself is a very admirable goal.

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