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This information is for participants in the Mindful Student Study. If there is anything that is not clear or if you would like more information please contact us; you can email us at mindfulstudentstudy@medschl.cam.ac.uk, or phone us at 01223 465192.

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What is this study about?

University students in the UK show elevated levels of stress. At Cambridge, use of University Counselling Service, College and NHS mental health services has been increasing in recent years. Requests for special circumstances in exams due to anxiety have also been rising. Preventative interventions to help healthy students develop their resilience to stress are needed.

Research shows that Mindfulness training reduces stress and prevents depression. It is used increasingly to support students at higher education institutions in the UK. In Lent 2015 the University Counselling Service started offering introductory mindfulness courses to healthy volunteer students. These courses proved to be highly popular and were oversubscribed.

However, there is still little rigorous scientific evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of mindfulness for university students. This is why the University Vice-Chancellor’s Endowment Fund is supporting an evaluation of the current mindfulness courses. This study aims to evaluate whether attending a mindfulness course:

  1. Improves students’ wellbeing and resilience to stress up to one year after having started the course
  2. Reduces their use of mental health treatment and support services
  3. Helps them to manage stress during the examination term
  4. Supports their engagement with student life, including their academic performance

This is a unique opportunity to make a significant contribution to research into university students’ wellbeing in Cambridge and beyond – and we can’t do it without you! The more students take part, the more reliable the study will be as it will represent a wider range of experiences.

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How does it work?

In order to assess whether mindfulness helps students thrive, we will compare participants who take part in mindfulness courses with students who don’t using a number of measures. All the participants will be offered a place in a mindfulness course, although courses will run this term for some participants and next year for others. This allocation will be determined randomly. As the courses are oversubscribed random allocation is seen as a fair process, as well as allowing us one of the most rigorous form of evaluation.

We will request participants to privately answer some questions about their wellbeing, stress and use of mental health support services. We will also need to securely access some of the study participants’ records held by the University Registry and the University Counselling Service. Click here to see which records we need. Finally, we will need some personal details to see whether diverse people experience different effects.

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What is mindfulness and what form does the course take?

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, in the present moment, to yourself and others, with an attitude of compassion/self-compassion. It is usually taught through a variety of mental exercises such as meditation. The particular meditations taught in mindfulness classes have their roots in Eastern meditation traditions and in the principles of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy. They are entirely secular mental exercises, and you are not asked to accept anything except your own experiences.

The 8-week mindfulness course is called “Mindfulness Skills for Students”. It is a group-based training programme based on the course book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (2011), and adapted for Cambridge students. The course is free of charge and for beginners. It consists of one 90-minute session and seven 75-minute sessions. Participants are also requested to do some home practice and reading every week.

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Who can take part?

In order to take part you need to:

  1. Be an undergraduate or graduate student at the University of Cambridge; and
  2. Be able and willing to attend at least 7 sessions of the 8-session mindfulness course. You will need to choose a course time and day to attend each week as per this timetable. If you cannot make your usual session feel free to attend an alternative session within the same week.

You are advised not to take part in this study if you are:

  1. Currently suffering from severe periods of anxiety or depression; or
  2. Experiencing severe mental illness such as hypomania or psychotic episodes; or
  3. Following recent bereavement or major loss (of about six months to a year); or
  4. Experiencing any other serious mental or physical health issue that would impact on your ability to engage with the course.

Other things can make it difficult to practice the deep inner listening that mindfulness requires, e.g., disruption to your daily schedule, a difficult relationship breakup, or major financial worries. These may not stop you learning mindfulness just now, but it is worth reflecting whether the time is right for you. If you feel unsure, you can have a conversation in confidence with Dr Elizabeth English, your prospective mindfulness teacher (contact her on mindfulness@admin.cam.ac.uk, or ring her on 01223 768542, from 4 January 2016). You may also talk it over with your college nurse or GP before signing up.

If you decide this is not the right time to learn mindfulness or take part in this research, please consider getting some help with your concerns; we have provided a list of local resources which may help you.

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Do I have to take part in the Mindful Student Study?

No! Taking part is entirely voluntary.

If you take part, you will be able to withdraw from the study at any time with no penalty or loss. You may even request that we destroy all or part of the data that you have contributed before withdrawing from the study (as long as this is requested before data have been aggregated and prepared for publication).

Although you don’t have to give a reason for withdrawing from the Mindful Student Study, it may help us if you do so because we may be able to make future improvements. This study will be most valuable if only few people withdraw from it once they have started.

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What will happen to me if I take part?

When consenting to take part, participants will be asked to give their name and university email addresses for correspondence and identification purposes. In January 2016, participants will be emailed a link to complete an online questionniare. Completing the questionnaire will take about 10 minutes. It does not need to be done in one go.

After finishing the questionnaire, participants will be randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group will be offered a place in mindfulness courses starting between 19 and 21 January 2016, and the other group will be offered a place in mindfulness courses starting the following year, in Lent 2017.

Participants will be invited to choose between seven different course times. Participants assigned to start in a years’ time (Lent 2017 participants) will not be invited to choose their courses until the beginning of Lent 2017.

Students assigned to both groups will be requested to complete online questionnaires, similar to the first one, three more times: At the end of Lent 2016, at the beginning of Easter 2016, and at the beginning of Lent 2017. All participants will be requested to complete these questionnaires, even those who drop out of the allocated mindfulness course.

In addition, those participants who have a smartphone will be requested to download a secure research application. This “app” will send notifications to the smartphone owner, asking them to complete short surveys about their stress levels and how well they are coping. This will only happen on some weeks during the Lent and Easter 2016 terms. Not more than 6 questions will be displayed each day. They will be able to simply ignore or leave for later the smartphone's notification if not willing/able to answer at that particular moment.

In order to see to what extent students’ routines become disrupted during the exam period, the smartphone application will automatically collect physical activity and sleep patterns using movement sensors. This will only happen on some weeks during the Lent and Easter 2016 terms, in which students will be requested to keep their phone with them during all the everyday activities in which this is possible, but to leave the smartphone out of the bed and charging when they go to sleep.

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Can I take part if I am a student in my final year? Will I be offered a course this year?

You are very welcome to take part in the study if you are in your last year, but unfortunately we cannot guarantee you a course this year. You will have, as everyone, a 50% chance of being offered a course this year. This is to make sure that study groups are compared in a fair way. If assigned to the Lent 2017 group you will still be offered a place in the course if you continue to be a University student doing a new degree.

We will request you to optionally give us your mobile phone number or personal email address so that information and links to the questionnaire can be sent to you if you no longer have a functional University email address in a year’s time.

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Are there possible disadvantages and/or risks in taking part?

Questionnaires include questions about your emotions which may make you feel uncomfortable. If this happens you may select 'Prefer not to answer' (available for all questions) and move on to the next question. This avoids skipping questions by mistake.

Introductory mindfulness courses for well people are not known to be associated with adverse events. Recent interest in side effects has focused on very intense or prolonged mindfulness practice and people with existing psychological vulnerabilities, not a healthy student group. However, there may be uncomfortable moments during the course as participants are encouraged to turn their attention to whatever thoughts are coming into their minds. Although participants are taught how to safely deal with these thoughts and moments, initial experiences can be somewhat distressing. You are encouraged to approach the course teacher – qualified and experienced – to discuss any concerns, and to pay attention to signs of your mental or physical health deteriorating, whether or not you think they are related to the mindfulness course. If we notice a significant increase in risk of harm to yourself or to others, we will inform you and help you to get adequate support.

Students with an increased risk of discomfort are advised not to enrol in the study. If you have fears that your thoughts and emotions will overwhelm you when you meditate, it may not be the right time for you to learn mindfulness meditation. If you have any particular worries we strongly suggest you discuss them with Dr Elizabeth English, your prospective mindfulness teacher (contact her on mindfulness@admin.cam.ac.uk, or ring her on 01223 768542, from 4 January 2016), your college nurse and/or your GP before enrolling.

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What are the possible benefits of taking part?

There is evidence that teaching mindfulness to the general population enhances their mental health and helps them deal with stress. We expect that it will generate these benefits among university students too. By taking part in the study you are guaranteed a place (either this year or next year if you are still a student) in a very popular mindfulness course that would otherwise operate a waiting list.

Recompense for time and inconvenience associated with participation will be given. Participants will also be offered the opportunity to donate this recompense to Centre 33, a local mental health charity for young people.

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Will my taking part in this project be kept confidential?

All the information you give us will be kept strictly confidential. Records will be maintained in accordance with the terms of the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

All the information you give to us will be made anonymous by a data manager so that researchers will not know whose information it is when they analyse it. All data will be identified only by a code, with personal details kept encrypted in a secure computer with access only by the data manager and some members of the study team. Reported findings will not have identifying information. Only if you tell us something that indicates you may be unsafe will we contact you to offer support or, if necessary, contact a health professional on your behalf.

If you decide not to answer questions or questionnaires this will not affect your mindfulness course in any way, nor will anything you put on the questionnaire. Your mindfulness teacher will not have access to questionnaire responses or smartphone data.

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What will happen to the results of the research project?

Results will be presented at conferences and written-up in journals, as well as to the University staff and students. Results are normally presented in terms of groups of individuals. Should any individual data be presented, the data will be totally anonymous, without any means of identifying the individuals involved. You will be able to request the results of this study and view any reports which result from it by contacting the study team.

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Who is organising and funding the research?

The University of Cambridge is the organiser and main funder of this research. The research team works closely with the University Counselling Service and has benefited from input from the Graduate Student Union and undergraduate students.

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Ethical review of the study

This project has received ethical approval from the Psychology Research Ethics Committee of the University of Cambridge. The University has insurance cover for this study.

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Contact for further information

For further information please contact the study team at: mindfulstudentstudy@medschl.cam.ac.uk or phone 01223 465192.

 

Should you be concerned about any aspect of this study you can also contact the research associate:

  • Dr Julieta Galante
  • Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Douglas House, 18b Trumpington Road, Cambridge CB2 8AH
  • Email: mjg231@cam.ac.uk

Or the principal investigator:

  • Professor Peter B. Jones
  • Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Herchel Smith Building, Cambridge, CB2 0SZ
  • Email: pbj21@cam.ac.uk

If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, you can contact the Chair of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee:

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