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Does Mindfulness Training Lead to Better Mental Health?

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Lucy Foulkes, a research psychologist at the University of Oxford, wants school systems to proceed cautiously with large-scale mental health interventions. “It’s possible that something very well-intended has overshot a bit and needs to be brought back in,” she said.Credit…Sandra Mickiewicz for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Are We Being Too Mindful?” (Science Times, May 7):

As someone who has worked in higher education mental health promotion and suicide prevention for more than 30 years, I was pleased to read this article, which discussed the potential drawbacks of too much focus on mindfulness and universal mental health training in schools.

It appears that too much focus on feelings without further information about how to handle difficult feelings, and lots of information about symptoms of mental illness without context, might not be helpful to many, and may harm some children.

In speaking to teachers and parents about youth mental health, I often suggest a simple thought experiment. While being aware of your child’s emotional state is important, imagine a parent who asks their child every 10 minutes how they are feeling and if they are OK. It is not hard to imagine that very soon the child would become convinced that something must be terribly wrong.

This problem has potentially more dire consequences when we consider suicide prevention training. There is good evidence that when children believe suicide to be more common, they are more likely themselves to engage in suicidal behaviors. Training that doesn’t provide clear context and pathways to help might actually increase risk for youth.

We must continue to learn and educate about mental health, but we must also carefully evaluate our efforts and be open to the need to revise and refine approaches.

Victor Schwartz
New York
The writer, a psychiatrist, is the senior associate dean for wellness and student life at the CUNY School of Medicine.

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