Mindfulness-based programmes (MBPs) are an increasingly popular approach to improving mental health in young people. Our previous meta-analysis suggested that MBPs show promising effectiveness, but highlighted a lack of high-quality, adequately powered randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This updated meta-analysis assesses the-state-of the-art of MBPs for young people in light of new studies. It explores MBP’s effectiveness in active vs passive controls; selective versus universal interventions; and studies that included follow-up.
Study selection and analysis
We searched for published and unpublished RCTs of MBPs with young people (<19 years) in PubMed Central, PsycINFO, Web of Science, EMBASE, ICTRP, ClinicalTrials.gov, EThOS, EBSCO and Google Scholar. Random-effects meta-analyses were conducted, and standardised mean differences (Cohen’s d) were calculated.
Sixty-six RCTs, involving 20 138 participants (9552 receiving an MBP and 10 586 controls), were identified. Compared with passive controls, MBPs were effective in improving anxiety/stress, attention, executive functioning, and negative and social behaviour (d from 0.12 to 0.35). Compared against active controls, MBPs were more effective in reducing anxiety/stress and improving mindfulness (d=0.11 and 0.24, respectively). In studies with a follow-up, there were no significant positive effects of MBPs. No consistent pattern favoured MBPs as a universal versus selective intervention.
The enthusiasm for MBPs in youth has arguably run ahead of the evidence. While MBPs show promising results for some outcomes, in general, the evidence is of low quality and inconclusive. We discuss a conceptual model and the theory-driven innovation required to realise the potential of MBPs in supporting youth mental health.