A school-based mindfulness program led to improved psychological functioning and lower levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms in low-income, minority youths, a randomized, controlled study showed.
The study analyzed the effect of mindfulness instruction in fifth- through eighth-graders at two Baltimore City Public Schools. More than 99% were African-American, and 99% were eligible for free lunch.
Researchers randomly assigned students to receive mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) instruction adapted from an adult program or general education on health topics (HT). Self-report survey data collected at baseline and post-program from 300 students were analyzed in the report “School-based Mindfulness Instruction: an RCT” (Sibinga EMS, et al. Pediatrics. Dec. 18, 2015, www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2015-2532).
At baseline, the two groups had similar scores on measures of psychological functioning, mindfulness and trauma symptoms. At the end of the 12-week program, MBSR students reported significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms, somatization, negative affect, negative coping, rumination, self-hostility and post-traumatic symptom severity than HT students.
“It was heartening that there was that capacity to show improvements with this kind of high-quality mindfulness training,” said Erica M. S. Sibinga, M.D., M.H.S., FAAP, co-author of the report and associate professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
By enhancing students’ capacity to manage stress and trauma, high-quality mindfulness instruction has the potential to create significant improvements in the life trajectories of vulnerable urban youth, according to researchers.
“High-quality mindfulness instruction merits consideration as primary prevention for mental and behavioral health problems in low-income, minority urban students,” they added. Program costs may be offset by decreased need for behavioral and mental health interventions.
The authors emphasized that the MBSR program in the study was conducted by well-trained, skilled instructors with ample programmatic support, which is not necessarily a reflection of what most schools have to work with.
Dr. Sibinga noted the importance of focusing further research on how mindfulness instruction is implemented.
“We want to be careful and thoughtful around the curricula and the instructors and how a school implements a program, as well as actively and continually evaluating a program that gets put into schools,” she said. “Mindfulness is a complex thing to teach, whether it’s adults or children.”
Mindfulness instruction also could benefit other at-risk populations, Dr. Sibinga said.
“There may be things that we (as pediatricians) can do in different settings, including the school and perhaps including our clinical sites, that may reduce the negative effects of some of the difficulties of external circumstances that youth experience,” she said.
- University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness
- AAP policy statement Early Childhood Adversity, Toxic Stress and the Role of the Pediatrician:
Translating Developmental Science Into Lifelong Health
- The AAP technical report "The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic
- AAP News story “Mitigate ‘toxic’ stress: A new science of early childhood reveals
urgency of protecting developing brains”
- AAP educational modules on early brain and child development, toxic stress, adverse
childhood experiences, community relationships and advocacy
- Information for parents on adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress