I’d like to share news of a unique, project I’m involved in right now: The Mindfulness Initiative and the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in the UK parliament. I’m a Mindfulness Initiative Associate and part of a team editing APPG’s report called, A Mindful Nation, into the potential for mindfulness teaching to benefit British society, and how public policy can support its development.
The main instigator is Chris Ruane, Labour MP for the Vale of Clwyd, who approached the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in 2012 along with Lord Richard Layard. In early 2013 Chris Cullen of the OMC started teaching mindfulness courses for MPs and Lords, and these proved very popular indeed. By 2014 around 120 people had attended these courses, including around ten percent of all MPs and a quarter of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The APPG was formed in June this year, with three co-chairs from each of the main political parties, with the intention of translating this personal engagement with mindfulness and meditation into policies that could benefit millions of people. A new group called The Mindfulness Initiative was established alongside the APPG, led by Madeleine Bunting and Ed Halliwell, and supported by a wide range of academics and mindfulness teachers.
The APPG has focused on four main policy areas and held roundtable meetings in parliament through the Autumn. These are information-gathering meetings for the APPG and its report. An interim report will be launched in parliament on January 14th, aiming to influence party manifestos; and the full report will be published in June, hoping to influence the incoming government.
The group is focusing on four main policy areas:
Mental Health: Mindfulness is already recommended by NICE for use in the NHS to avoid depression relapse. The APPG has been exploring how provision can be improved and other areas where mindfulness can help.
Physical Health: The APPG has been hearing the potential for mindfulness to benefit people with a range of physical conditions, including cancer and chronic pain.
NHS Staff: Stress and burnout are big issues among healthcare workers and exploring ways to support them, including mindfulness training is a priority.
Mindfulness is being used in many schools for three main reasons: to help with the serious mental health crisis affecting children and young people; to develop the capacity to concentrate as a support to educational attainment; and to support you people’s wellbeing and flourishing. This field is growing very quickly and large-scale research is under way.
This area is much less developed in the UK, though a lot has been done in the US. I spoke at the roundtable meeting about my work with Probation Wales, and we heard about other projects as well. However, there is huge scope for mindfulness to help offenders, over ninety percent of whom experience one or more mental health conditions, as well as staff in the probation, prison and police services, all of whom are reporting high levels of stress.
A lot is happening with workplace mindfulness, but just as workplaces are very diverse, so is what is offered. It’s also unregulated and can raise ethical concerns – for example when employees use mindfulness as a stress management technique, rather than improving conditions.
A further strand is the challenge of training people to teach mindfulness while maintaining the integrity of what they offer and their own personal practice. The current surge of interest in mindfulness will no doubt recede, and too much poor mindfulness teaching will muddy the well of enthusiasm. Connected with this is the importance of developing the research base for mindfulness.
So far as I know, no other legislative assembly in the world is giving this kind of attention to the potential benefits of mindfulness. There’s a big gap between the work of an APPG and implementing policies; but the group marks an important step in bringing mindfulness into he heart of British life. I hope the work we are doing will also influence policy makers in many other countries as well.