Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word at the moment. The media seems full of articles on the subject; Radio 4 broadcast an interesting programme last month highlighting the use of mindfulness sessions in one of the Magic Circle law firms in London. Would it be unduly cynical to think that if an analytical, profit-driven business sees merit in the process, there must be something in it?
Similarly in the news recently, there have been concerns about mental health and the emotional well-being of our children. Worrying statistics show the increase of mental illness in the young. Fifty per-cent of mental illnesses begin before the age of fourteen, rates of depression in the under eighteens have doubled since the early eighties, and fifteen year old girls in England are the most stressed in the world. Average levels of anxiety in children and young people are now at a point which would have been judged to be clinical in the 1950s. At the same time, funding for medical help and support has reduced in real terms.
At Juniors, we rarely see the more extreme manifestations of anxiety, but every school has stressed and anxious pupils from time to time – for reasons related to events both in and out of school – and we are no different. We try to equip the girls with more than just their times tables so that they can cope with the ups and downs of life, and our Pillars of Learning, particularly Resilience, reflect that ethos.
Mindfulness seems to give us another tool in the tool box. Studies have shown that it can boost resilience, developing hardiness. Over an eight week programme in one study, it was shown that ‘fundamental’ character traits are not fixed after all, and can be changed for the better.
While there is clinical evidence that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is highly successful at treating serious depression, more pertinent for us is that it also helps to catch negative thought patterns before they tumble into a downward spiral. It positively affects brain patterns underlying every day anxieties so that when problems arise, you deal with them and move on. Again, studies show that memory improves, creativity increases and reaction times speed up.
The GDST is taking an enormous interest in the emotional well-being of the girls; investing in training for teachers and looking at provision of counsellors in our schools. We are already taking advantage of that input to provide our staff with the means to best support our girls.
In a busy school, it pays to take a little time out to reflect and enjoy the moment – for adults as well as children – and research shows that there are long term benefits to be had. We will be trying some of the simple recommended practices with the children in the coming weeks (parents: do let us know if you see any impact at home). In the meantime, you may be interested in reading ‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Professor Mark Williams, which refers more fully to the studies mentioned above. There is an accompanying website www.franticworld.com
Mrs Skevington, Head of Juniors