How do you measure mindfulness?

New research, led by former Wolfson Junior Research Fellow, Dr Julieta Galante, has taken a closer look at the effectiveness of mindfulness – acknowledging its benefits, but cautioning against the assumption that mindfulness training works for everyone. 

Image of mindfulness

Mindfulness stress-reduction courses have become increasingly popular over the last decade, and have a hugely beneficial impact on people's lives. As COVID takes its toll on mental health across the country, there has been even greater focus on practices that can foster greater mental health. 

But how do you measure the effectiveness of mindfulness, and does it work for everyone? A new report, published this week in PLOS Medicine, approached the problem by analysing 136 previously conducted randomised controlled trials to assess whether mindfulness training does indeed improve mental health and wellbeing.  

Their findings were positive, concluding that mindfulness does reduce anxiety, depression and stress, and increases well-being compared with doing nothing. However, the report also concluded that mindfulness might not work for everyone: in more than one in 20 trial settings, mindfulness-based programmes may not improve these outcomes. 

Dr Julieta Galante from the Department of Psychiatry, and former Wolfson JRF, was the report’s first author: “For the average person and setting, practising mindfulness appears to be better than doing nothing for improving our mental health, particularly when it comes to depression, anxiety and psychological distress – but we shouldn’t assume that it works for everyone, everywhere.

“Mindfulness training in the community needs to be implemented with care. Community mindfulness courses should be just one option among others, and the range of effects should be researched as courses are implemented in new settings. The courses that work best may be those aimed at people who are most stressed or in stressful situations, for example health workers, as they appear to see the biggest benefit.”

Dr Galante has previously spoken at Wolfson about how we evaluate mindfulness. Under the supervision of Wolfson Fellow, Professor Peter Jones, her work for the University into the effects of mindfulness training on stress reduction provided insight into where the University can focus its efforts to best improve students’ mental health. 

This latest research comes after Wolfson College Research Associates Drs Akeem Sule and Becky Inkster explored resilience and mental health issues through the lyrics of hip hop. 

You can find out more about Mindfulness at Cambridge on the University website, including timetables for online provision for Lent. A new Meditation and Mindfulness group is also available at Wolfson. 

You can read the full report, ‘Mindfulness-based programmes for mental health promotion in adults in nonclinical settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials’, on the PLOS website.

*This article takes its quotes from a longer article, which you can find on the University website.