Background There is concern that increasing demand for student mental health services reflects deteriorating student well-being. We designed a pragmatic, parallel, single-blinded randomised controlled trial hypothesising that providing mindfulness courses to university students would promote their resilience to stress up to a year later. Here we present 1-year follow-up outcomes.
Methods University of Cambridge students without severe mental illness or crisis were randomised (1:1, remote software-generated random numbers), to join an 8-week mindfulness course adapted for university students (Mindfulness Skills for Students (MSS)), or to mental health support as usual (SAU).
Results We randomised 616 students; 53% completed the 1-year follow-up questionnaire. Self-reported psychological distress and mental well-being improved in the MSS arm for up to 1 year compared to SAU (p<0.001). Effects were smaller than during the examination period. No significant differences between arms were detected in the use of University Counselling Service and other support resources, but there was a trend for MSS participants having milder needs. There were no differences in students’ workload management; MSS participants made more donations. Home practice had positive dose–response effects; few participants meditated. No adverse effects related to self-harm, suicidality or harm to others were detected.
Conclusion Loss to follow-up is a limitation, but evidence suggests beneficial effects on students’ average psychological distress that last for at least a year. Effects are on average larger at stressful times, consistent with the hypothesis that this type of mindfulness training increases resilience to stress.
Trial registration number ACTRN12615001160527.
- Randomised trials
- Mental health
- Psychological stress
- Health services
This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Statistics from Altmetric.com
Twitter Julieta Galante and her team @MSSatUoC.
Acknowledgements We thank the study participants, the mindfulness teacher Elizabeth English for her development of the intervention independently of the researchers, the administrative teams at the UCS and RDP, Alice Benton and Emma Howarth.
Contributors GD conceived the intervention pilot. PBJ and GD applied for research funding. All authors planned the study. JG, GD, MV and PBJ did the study. JG, JS and APW did the analysis. JG wrote a manuscript that was revised through discussion with all the authors.
Funding This is a summary of research funded by the University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund (RNER–LFHA), the University Counselling Service (no specific grant) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration East of England (ARC EoE) programme (RNAG/564). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the University of Cambridge, NHS, NIHR or Department of Health and Social Care. The funders of the study had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation or writing of the report. The corresponding author had full access to all of the data and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent for publication Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
Data availability statement Deidentified individual participant data and dictionary are available for researchers upon request from the corresponding author after approval of a proposal, with a signed data access agreement.
Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.
If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.