18 February 2020
Is meditation effective as an early intervention to reduce reactivity to stress and anxiety? The Mindfulteen study investigates the question using brain imaging.
Mindfulness meditation is a technique borrowed from oriental medicine that consists of training oneself to be in the present moment and to accept rather than judge. It was taken up and adapted by Western medicine in the 1970s. Mindfulness was first used for treating chronic pain before demonstrating its benefits in tackling anxiety in adults. Synapsy’s researchers are focusing on the approach to enhance stress management in young adolescents. Adolescence is a particularly interesting period for brain development since poor stress management at this stage is regarded as a vulnerability factor for the development of psychiatric disorders. Early intervention targeting young adolescents who express subclinical levels of anxiety could prevent the onset of anxiety, depressive and psychotic disorders.
The aim of the study is to measure the effect of mindfulness meditation on stress reactivity and anxiety while analyzing the neural circuits involved. Backed by Synapsy and the Leenards Foundation, the project is led by Camille Piguet and Arnaud Merglen for the University of Geneva and HUG, together with Paul Klauser for the University of Lausanne and CHUV. The study, which started in February 2019, has successfully included 3 groups of 8–10 participants. The researchers are targeting 120 13 to 15-year-old children (www.mindfulteen.ch).
The approach is of great interest to the work package on early psychosis (WP#2), and a collaborative project on stress reactivity is also underway. “Children of PTSD mothers in the Daniel Schechter cohort already have symptoms of stress-related illnesses, so they are the clinical counterpart of the Mindfulteen cohort. Taking identical measurements means the results will be comparable and useful for both studies”, explains Piguet. Mindfulteen is also closely linked to fundamental aspects of Synapsy’s WP#2. “The interactions between inflammation and oxidative stress are important in the development of psychiatric disorders. We’re investigating whether the meditation approach could influence these interactions,” adds Paul Klauser (read Zoé Shilliger’s interview).