Reasons to pause for thought at Mindful Culture conference

The theme of our conference this year was ‘mindful culture’. With all the many challenges and pressures facing our society and the organisations we work for the topic couldn’t have been more prescient.

Speakers and participants posed and answered central questions during key note talks and workshops: What is mindful culture? How can a more mindful culture help improve access to improved mental health and flourishing for all? What is the impact of the wider environment such as social media, the polarisation of debate, the cost-of-living crisis, climate change and the increasing pressures facing children and young people? What are the barriers to scaling up access to  mindfulness? What prevents mindfulness being accessible and relevant to excluded communities?

Jane Padmore, Chief Executive of the Sussex Partnership NHS Trust (SPFT), started the day with a clear expression of support for mindfulness within the Trust. Among NHS Trusts throughout the UK, SPFT is leading the way ensuring that mindfulness training is not only available to patients but also to staff. While supporting staff wellbeing contributes to a more mindful culture, Jane was clear that this is not enough. The Trust, its managers and staff, need to be very intentional about bringing mindfulness and kindness into our work, and into our engagement with others. It doesn’t happen by accident. When we are more intentionally mindful it not only improves our wellbeing, but the experience and outcomes for colleagues and patients. 

Chris Ruane, shared his unique experience of how to create a more mindful culture and specifically how to get mindfulness into legislatures. Chris served as a Member of Parliament for twenty years from 1997. In 2013, he worked with Lord Layard and the Oxford Mindfulness Centre to establish mindfulness practice in the UK Parliament. 
His tips for getting mindfulness into a similar setting were: 

  • Do your homework and research carefully. Identify where existing opportunities and sympathetic insiders are.
  • Bring in the best teachers possible to influence the decisionmakers, and to help win the case and to teach effectively for that audience.
  • Link with a university or think tank to add credibility.
  • Identify catalyst(s) within parliament or other settings. 
  • Bring MPs from all the parties with you, to avoid alienating some. 

As a result of his pioneering work, 330 parliamentarians have received mindfulness training and many have become converts to and advocates for mindfulness. Inspired by the success in the UK, at least fourteen other legislatures, and multilateral institutions, are also now engaging with mindfulness at some level. 

Uz Afzal and Miia Chambers from Rainbow Mind highlighted their work co-producing a radically caring culture. Research on radical self-care showed a statistically and clinically meaningful reduction in psychological strain, and reductions in anxiety and depression, and experiences of shame and ruminative thinking. 

Their model for creating a radically caring culture involves recognising the need for a shift in power, ensuring people with lived experience are in leadership roles, including trauma-sensitive interventions that recognise the pain and suffering caused by exclusion. Rainbow Mind has embodied radical self-care at the soul and foundation of the organisation. You can see what this means in practice here and see their presentation here.

We heard from Chris Tamdjidi, Co-Director of Awaris (international, evidence-based provider of mindfulness training in the workplace). Chris noted recognition from NICE of the impact of mindfulness training in the workplace. A recent NICE review, based on 18,000 studies, concluded that, “yoga, mindfulness and meditation were most effective overall in reducing job stress and mental health symptoms and having a positive effect on employee mental wellbeing.” 

Between 2009 and 2021, individuals feeling stressed at work has risen by almost 50% globally (from 31% of the global workforce to 44%) according to a poll from Gallup State of the Global Workforce 2022. Many employers are recognising the impact of stress on their staff, and are exploring ways to address this and improve wellbeing. Chris was quick to point out there are no quick fixes, no simple solutions. The impact of workplace mindfulness interventions was directly linked to the amount of time the company and employees were prepared to invest. The rewards in team performance, innovation and resilience could be significant when the company was prepared to invest the necessary time and embrace mindfulness as part of its culture. 

Ritblat Professor, Willem Kuyken spoke about the proven impact of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy on reducing recurrence and relapse of depression, and reducing symptoms in those currently suffering depression. 

In an effort to increase the benefits of mindfulness to the whole population and hopefully reduce depression for future generations, the MYRIAD programme was developed to bring mindfulness into schools. The most common age of onset for mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia is late teens and early twenties. So, the MYRIAD programme explored whether mindfulness could improve the mental health of young people in early adolescence, before the most common onset of mental health disorders. The far-reaching eight-year programme covered 85 schools and almost 27,000 adolescents and involved training school teachers to teach mindfulness. 

The results at the end of the comprehensive programme in 2022 were surprising. Mental health remained a huge challenge among the children involved in the mindfulness interventions. At the end of the intervention the mental health challenge in young people persisted. If anything, it had got a bit worse. It’s important to acknowledge the mindfulness training programme did reduce teachers’ burn out and improve the overall school climate, though even these effects disappeared after a year.

Willem concluded it was impossible to ignore the wider context that children live in and the multiple deprivations they may face. Also, it is important to acknowledge the learning context and the impact of disruptive classes. Willem concurred with Marcus Rashford, perhaps we shouldn’t give mindfulness to children before we know if they have had breakfast! 

A great example of how culture, climate and context influence the impact of mindfulness interventions.