Can Mindfulness Change the Face of Britain?
No-one is in any doubt that we are facing a crisis with the increasing levels of mental illness in this country; one in four of us experiences a mental health problem every year.
But what if there was something small – taking as little as ten or 15 minutes –that could help millions of us living with stress, depression and anxiety? And, as if that wasn’t enough, it could also help people focus, reduce anger, and aid in preventing any number of physical ailments. We’re talking mindfulness, of course. And that’s what led me to a meeting room in the House of Commons this week: to hear the interim report of the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, organised by The Mindfulness Initiative, an advocacy group aimed at increasing awareness of how mindfulness can benefit society. But first, we practised mindfulness meditation together. Led by Rebecca Crane, director of the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University, a room full of MPs, journalists, researchers and mindfulness practitioners “paid attention on purpose, in the present moment, with curiosity and compassion”. It was a great start to an interesting event. The all-party group has for the past eight months heard submissions about the benefits of mindfulness in health, education, work and prisons. Their key recommendations call for access to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for those with depression; increasing access to mindfulness training for teachers to use in schools; mindfulness pilot projects in the NHS and civil service, as well as the criminal justice system.
“The mindfulness course helped me develop coping mechanisms and got me off medication"
They are also eager to see a clear system of registration and governance in the area of mindfulness training so that people can know they are getting genuinely expert guidance. The MPs from all three major parties talked enthusiastically about how mindfulness was useful in so many areas of life. Most affecting was Tracey Crouch, Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford and co-chair of the Mindulness APPG, who had suffered from depression. “The mindfulness course helped me develop coping mechanisms and got me off medication. It also helped build my confidence in vulnerable situations like speaking on live radio or in the House of Commons”. Also on the panel were a number of supporters, including Professor Lord Richard Layard of the Action for Happiness initiative, and former head of the civil service, Gus O’Donnell. The latter warned that it was all very well for those in the room to sing the praises of the practice; it was only hard, cold proof that would loosen the tight fists of the treasury. “It needs proper, randomised control testing so that it is really clear what works and where. I always say, if you treasure it, then measure it!” Long-time meditator Chris Ruane, Labour MP for Vale of Clwyd and co-chair of the Mindulness APPG, was in no doubt to what could be achieved, “provided we approach it the right way. Grounding what we do in science and taking a cross-party approach. Mindfulness is too important to be politicised”. The final report of the group will be made in June 2015.