Research

Mindfulness can lead to mental ill-health

10 Dec 2020 By Maggie Baska

Wellbeing practices can trigger ‘adverse events’ such as depression and anxiety, study finds

Meditation and mindfulness have been the subject of growing interest in recent years, thanks to rapidly expanding evidence suggesting they’re helpful for many mental and physical health problems. The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended mindfulness-based cognitive therapy since 2004, and in 2017 NHS England mandated it as a treatment that should be available in all primary care mental health services. 

Mindfulness and meditation have also been offered by some of the world’s biggest companies – such as Google, GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG – to cut workplace stress and boost productivity. In 2004, Transport for London implemented a group-based mindfulness programme to help staff manage mental health issues, understand their stress cycles and develop healthier habits. Nearly all participants reported improvements in their happiness at work, sleep patterns and personal relationships. 

However, a review led by Coventry University has found these wellbeing practices can actually result in unwanted negative effects. The study revealed that 8 per cent of people who tried meditation experienced an unwanted negative effect on their mental health – or meditation adverse events (MAEs). 

The researchers analysed 83 studies, 55 of which included reports of at least one type of MAE. The most common adverse events were anxiety (33 per cent), depression (27 per cent) and cognitive anomalies (25 per cent). 

Dr Miguel Farias, co-author of the report and experimental psychologist at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, said millions of people used meditation and mindfulness as therapy and wellbeing practices without awareness of potential unwanted side effects. “People have experienced anything from an increase in anxiety up to panic attacks,” Farias explained. “For most people, [meditation] works fine, but it has undoubtedly been over-hyped and it’s not universally benevolent.”

HR Manager

HR Manager

Sevenoaks, Kent

Dependent on skills and experience but likely up to be in the region of £47 - £52,000

Sevenoaks School

Head of HR

Head of HR

Sevenoaks, Kent

Dependent on skills and experience but likely up to £70,000

Sevenoaks School

Head of Workforce OD

Head of Workforce OD

Birmingham, West Midlands

Salary scale £63,751 to £73,664 pa

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust

View More Jobs

Explore related articles