On 4th December, 2012, Chris Ruane, the MP for the Vale of Clwyd in North Wales initiated a debate in the UK House of Commons on mindfulness, especially focusing on how it can help the unemployed

Chris Ruane starts his speech by citing indicators of a dramatic rise in stress and mental illness:

the number of prescriptions issued for antidepressants has gone from 9 million to 46 million over the past 10 years. That is a 500% increase. In a follow-up question, I asked what assessment Ministers had made of the treatment of such people. The answer was that no assessment had been made …  32% of young people between 16 and 24 suffer with a psychiatric disorder that could range from a mild condition such as anxiety or stress through to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia … Some 25% of UK citizens will suffer mental illness.

Leaving aside what has caused this increase, Ruane claims that Mindfulness ‘can both prevent people from becoming unemployed, limit the effects of unemployment, and help people to get back to work.’ He cites a pilot scheme in Durham:

[The mindfulness course] lasted for four weeks, consisting of two and a half hours taught course each week, with 45 minutes of homework a day. The cost was minimal—£300 for each person on the course—but the benefits were maximum. Of the 300 clients who attended, 47% found employment within six months. The 53% who did not find work were placed on a traditional full mindfulness course. Ninety per cent. of those who started the course finished it. Pre-screening ensured that the drop-out rate was minimal and efficiencies were maintained. All who attended were, as I have said, from the difficult-to-reach categories

However, Ruane, argues that mindfulness-based approaches are not widely available and have not been taken sufficiently seriously. ‘More than two-thirds of GPs say that they rarely or never refer their patients with recurrent depression to mindfulness-based practices, and 5% say that they do so very often. GPs do not know about it. Politicians do not know about it,’ he says.

He criticises the reflex use of medication for depression, suggesting that government and service providers are unduly influenced by lobbying and advertising from the pharmaceutical industry and that alternative approaches are marginalised or ignored.

He comments that he has tabled dozens of parliamentary questions about mindfulness and why it is not taken more seriously or used more widely. He says that the reply comes back that data is not collected centrally.

Finally he urges ministers to meet with mindfulness practitioners and academics to become better acquainted with the subject and explore how it can be used in helping people get back to work as well as in other areas.

Mark Hoban,  The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions replies. His comments are polite but non-committal. He says

‘mindfulness therapy is an emerging and important field. We will watch with interest the outcome of the randomised controlled trials that are under way—not only in preventing relapse, but for treatment of long-term conditions … we will remain open-minded about mindfulness-based therapy; the challenge is to demonstrate how it will work.

In the debate the staff of the Bangor and Oxford mindfulness training centres are cited as reference points and authorities whom the government and others might consult, and who might contact service providers in various domains. That’s a lot to rest on these excellent people who have many other teaching and research responsibilities. It seems that something else is needed. Please let me know your thoughts what that might be.

You can read the transcript of the debate here. It starts halfway down the page at 7.43 pm,  Column 840.

Associated Posts on Buddhism and Mindfulness

Buddhism & the Mindfulness Movement: Friends or Foes?

What Buddhists Can Learn from Secular Mindfulness
(i.) Responding to Suffering
(ii.) the State We’re In

What The Mindfulness Movement Can Learn from Buddhists
(i) A Wider View of Mindfulness
(ii) Mining Buddhism