How Can Mindfulness Support Teen Mental Health

New research explores using mindfulness for teen depression, and for other major health conditions like pain, glaucoma, and chronic stress.

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Support for teen mental health 

MBSR has been widely studied and accepted as conferring important benefits to adults struggling with anxiety and depression. Less is known about its effect on teens with the same conditions. This controlled trial was conducted at an intensive residential mental health treatment program for adolescents over eight weeks. The teens, average age 14, were split into two groups, with one group receiving standard residential care, and the other receiving standard care plus a modified MBSR protocol that included weekly two-hour sessions and a three-hour retreat in week 8. The MBSR group “showed significant improvements” on measures including internalization of problems, namely depression and anxiety, and adaptive skills, like social and study skills and leadership. 

Does online mindfulness work? 

A study in Australia found that an online 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program helps employees feel more optimistic and engaged in their work, and may decrease levels of striving and need for recognition. “While the ‘human element’ may potentially enhance the efficacy of face-to-face MBSR programs, the online program is more easily accessed, and this may mean the benefits of these programs reach more employees,” the study authors wrote in a paper published in Physiology & Behavior

Hope for glaucoma sufferers 

An innovative study has shown that meditation may help with glaucoma. The leading cause of blindness, glaucoma affects almost 70 million people worldwide. It’s characterized by intraocular pressure that progressively damages the optic nerve. 

After three weeks, 75% of the meditators showed a 25% reduction in eye pressure, while the non-meditators showed no difference.

The researchers randomly divided 90 glaucoma patients in New Delhi into two groups. One group was instructed in meditation focused on the breath, and practiced an hour daily for three weeks. The other group did not meditate. After three weeks, 75% of the meditators showed a 25% reduction in eye pressure, while the non-meditators showed no difference. The meditators also experienced reductions in cortisol levels, oxidative stress, and other pro-inflammatory markers, and increases in beta-endorphins.  In a paper published in Journal of Glaucoma, researchers noted that chronic stress, which leads to increased blood pressure, provokes intraocular pressure. 

“This study suggests that mental stress may be one of the main causal factors of glaucoma, and using [meditation] to reduce stress is a powerful tool to treat the patient as a whole and not just the eye, a holistic approach to manage the disease and also improve overall patient well-being,” said researcher Bernhard Sabel, PhD.

More mindful, less pain? 

In this follow-up to a 2015 study, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center tested pain levels among novice meditators when exposed to heat stimulation. Observed under MRI, study participants who scored highest for levels of “dispositional mindfulness,” or someone’s natural, innate level of mindfulness, were less sensitive to the pain. Higher dispositional mindfulness correlated to greater deactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with self and mind-wandering. Those reporting feeling more pain had more activation in this same region. “The results of our study showed that mindful individuals are seemingly less caught up in the experience of pain,” said lead study author Fadel Zeidan, PhD. 

Helping nurses cope 

Nursing is one of the most taxing jobs in healthcare. A recent study set out to determine if MBSR could help relieve stress and increase resilience among nurses in general hospitals in mainland China. Following a modified MBSR program, and evaluated with questionnaires at baseline, immediately afterward, and 3 months later, the nurses who did the program reported decreased stress and negative affect, and increased positive affect and resilience.