There was growing evidence that young people’s mental health and wellbeing in the UK was in decline long before COVID. This problem is particularly pronounced among students in higher education (HE). According to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)1, the proportion of university students reporting a mental health condition grew five-fold in the last decade. However, studies from cognitive psychology and contemplative science have started to signpost approaches that offer support for students dealing with anxiety, stress, procrastination, and motivation.
Not unsurprisingly, problems with mental health and wellbeing can profoundly impact students’ ability to perform academically and their willingness to complete their chosen course of study. Serious mental health problems are rarely restricted just to academic matters and can influence all areas of life. In some universities, 25% of the total student body has engaged with or are waiting to access wellbeing services.
From a scientific perspective, there is a range of mixed messages coming from meditation research. There are individual studies that suggest meditation or mindfulness can have a positive impact on specific mental health and wellbeing issues. Still, regrettably, the results are rarely replicated or strongly supported by strategic reviews. However, by approaching student mental health using instruments from cognitive psychology and neuroscience, some straightforward strategies for using meditation and mindfulness emerge. These centre mainly on understanding the known constructs that underpin obstacles to successful engagement with HE.
Although every student is different and the challenges each faces is unique, the science indicates there are common factors to many of the academic obstacles they face. It would be an oversimplification to suggest that the same meditation is beneficial for every student. But an appropriate method (one able to tackle their underlying problems) is likely to bring some benefit leading to a more positive engagement with academic work and improve all-round wellbeing.
1 Thorley C (2017) Not By Degrees: Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities, IPPR. http://www.ippr.org/publications/not-by-degrees