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Politicians have more MBCT in mind

Tagged In:  Mental Health, NHS

A new report by a cross-party group of MPs and peers calls for funding to train NHS psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists as teachers of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). 

Mindful Nation UK follows more than a year of research by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group. Up to 10% of the population suffer symptoms of depression in any given week. Of those, 50% will suffer again and 80% of those will have three or more episodes. Reducing the recurrence of depression can therefore make a huge difference to the health of the nation and significantly reduce pressure on mental health services.

Influenced by practices used in Buddhism and other Asian philosophies, MBCT combines meditation, breathing exercises and stretching with elements of cognitive therapy to help break negative thought patterns. In 2004 it was endorsed by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as a viable treatment for patients who had a history of recurrent depression. 

In 2013 the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported on a study led by Professor Willem Kuyken of the University of Exeter, which suggested that mindfulness could help promote psychological wellbeing amongst schoolchildren. And in April this year, a study by researchers at Oxford University concluded that MBCT could be an effective alternative to anti-depressants for people with major depression at high risk of relapse.

With 72% of GPs keen to refer patients for MBCT, yet only one in five having access to local provision, it's no surprise that one of the key recommendations of the Mindful Nation UK report focuses on training MBCT teachers: "Funding should be made available through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies training programme (IAPT) to train 100 MBCT teachers a year for the next five years."  

This would present personal development opportunities for a range of NHS mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists. Current course providers include Oxford University's Mindfulness Centre and Bangor University's Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice.

Mindfulness for NHS workers

There's also been much talk of using mindfulness classes to help combat stress and depression amongst NHS employees themselves – not just those in mental health jobs, but across the entire healthcare workforce. In the USA, research at Northwestern University has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve decision making and quality of care amongst doctors and nurses. Medical Director Melinda Ring said that doctors participating in mindfulness training reported 'enhanced personal well-being, decreased burn-out, and improved attitude toward patient-centred care'. She even asserted that it could help reduce hospital-acquired infections, which are often caused by human error.

Some NHS trusts are leading the way. In 2013 Cambridge and Peterborough piloted a mindfulness service, offering places to 34 staff members, and is currently rolling out the scheme across the Trust.  As part of their staff wellbeing strategies, Sussex Partnership and Pennine Care both provide mindfulness sessions for employees.

In his foreword to Mindful Nation UK, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts, describes the report's recommendations as an opportunity to address 'some of the most pressing problems of society at their very root – at the level of the human mind and the heart'. With depression expected to cost the UK economy over £9 billion a year in lost earnings alone within ten years, many people will be looking to the government and healthcare planners to seize that opportunity.

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