mindfulnessMindfulness has exploded in the public consciousness over recent years ranging from its inclusion in New Zealand’s school curriculum to it becoming the driving force behind last year’s must-have Christmas present – the adult colouring in book.

Stress-beating colouring books (which use the principles behind mindfulness to market relief from anxiety and the rat-race) became the most fashionable gift in the UK thanks to online retailers like Amazon, who had a whole shopping category devoted to adult colouring in books, and gimmicks such as books featuring the face of television and film stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch. Press stories on UK high street retailer WHSmith even credited colouring in books for “saving Christmas” after like-for-like annual sales were up 2{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} “driven by the ‘colour therapy’ phenomenon”.

Even in the scientific community mindfulness is booming with more than 700 scientific papers published on the topic in 2014.

So amongst all this popularity, how can you quantify how effective mindfulness actually is – after all, as the UK’s Nottingham Trent University’s Edo Shonin, William Van Gordon and Mark Griffiths have written in the British Medical Journal, “particular findings may be influenced by a form of ‘popularity effect’”.

“The growing popularity of mindfulness means that outcomes may be influenced by participants’ belief that they are receiving a “fashionable” or proved psychotherapeutic technique. This is a difficult confounding variable to control for because it is almost impossible to blind patients from the fact they are using mindfulness techniques.”

True, those promoting mindfulness techniques seem to have crept into all manner of aspects of our life (the USA’s BMX cycling team even used traditional mindfulness practices along with didactic presentations on topics such as mindfulness, mind-wandering, self-compassion, and self-criticism” in a bid to get a winning edge), but there are also plenty of studies which point towards its specific benefits.

Shonin, Van Gordon and Griffiths say that the “evidence is most convincing for its use in the treatment of depression and anxiety”.

After qualifying some reviews as failing to adequately control their results for the placebo effect inherent in a fashionable and relatively new treatment, they cite a review of 36 randomised and controlled trials which was published in March 2015 and reported small to moderate effects in the treatment of depression or anxiety after eight weeks.

“Although these outcomes are more modest, they are comparable with results that would be expected from treatment with antidepressants in a primary care population, but without the associated toxicity.”

There is also “some evidence” that mindfulness can help treat schitzophrenia spectrum disorders, eating disorders, chemical and non-chemical addiction and sleep disorders, and “accumulating” evidence that it could play a role in treating physical conditions such as psoriasis, cancer, HIV infection, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, hypertension, lung disease, diabetes and chronic pain (although “it is unclear whether mindfulness reduces t4he frequency and intensity of pain or simply improves patients’ ability to cope with pain”.)

With such a broad spectrum of potential uses, there’s bound to be a wide range of practitioners and methods of introducing, teaching and practicing mindfulness although the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the American Psychiatric Association have backed mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for recurrent depression in adults and it’s clear that skilled professionals are best suited to help teach mindfulness techniques as part of a suite of treatments for mental health issues.

What is important, though, is for both professionals and those seeking mindfulness treatment not to fall into the “fashionable” trap without fully researching what’s still a relatively fresh discipline in the mental health field.

As Shonin, Van Gordon and Griffiths conclude:

“Evidence is growing that mindfulness is effective in increasing perceptual distance from distressing psychological and somatic [physical] stimuli and that it leads to functional neuroplastic changes in the brain. However the ‘fashionable’ status of mindfulness among both the general public and the scientific community may have overshadowed the need to examine important methodological and operational issues concerning it efficacy.”

  • Robert Street Clinic’s range of psychotherapists, counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists include experts who work with mindfulness techniques to help treat a range of mental health issues. For more information on whether they can help you, call us on 09 973 5950, email us at info@robertstclinico.nz or message us via the website.