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Mind on the job: the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation

In 2016, the National Mental Health Commission reported that the cost of mental ill-health to each Australian taxpayer is about $4000 a year, and more than $60 billion a year to the nation as a whole.

Couple this with the statistic that nurses can suffer depression at up to twice the rate of the general population in some countries, and it is safe to say that finding ways to reduce stress and mental illness among our health professionals should be a priority.

Associate Professor Pamela Van Der Riet and her colleagues from the University of Newcastle’s School of Nursing and Midwifery recently conducted an integrated literature review into the effects of mindfulness meditation on nurses and nursing students.

Mindfulness meditation – described as mental and emotional control practices – can include yoga, meditation, breathing practices and body scanning. Studies have shown it can improve workplace safety, nurse performance and even slow the ageing process.

Aged Care Insite sat down with Van Der Riet to find out more about her research and how it applies to nurses.

ACI: Can you explain the concepts behind mindfulness and mindfulness meditation?

VDR: There are many different forms, but meditation is a tool for mindfulness. What we particularly looked at in this paper was mindfulness meditation for nurses and nursing students. There are different types of mindfulness and different types of meditation. For example, there’s Zen, Tibetan meditation and mindfulness-based stress-reduction meditation.

When we did the search, we found well over 1700 articles. After a critical appraisal, we included 16 papers in our review. And of those 16, there were 12 quantitative papers and three mixed methods, but only one qualitative paper.

Essentially, we found that mindfulness meditation has a very positive impact on nurses. In fact, four out of five papers indicated there was statistical evidence that it reduced stress and anxiety.

The other big one was depression. Five of those studies showed statistical evidence that it reduced depression, and seven papers that it reduced burnout.

Therefore, we concluded that mindfulness meditation has the potential to build the resilience of nurses and other health professionals, given the huge positive impact in reducing stress, anxiety, depression and burnout, and in improving wellbeing and empathy.

The other thing with mindfulness meditation is that it improves safety, because it makes people more attentive and more mindful of what they’re doing.

However, in addition to our review, I think there’s still a need for further research in this area. The big thing is keeping nurses in the profession. My colleagues and I are seeking an ARC linkage grant to look at whether mindfulness meditation improves nurses’ views about staying on in nursing, because it’s a very stressful profession.

How does mindfulness meditation work?

There is a science to meditation. There’s evidence that mindfulness meditation can cause changes in the structure and function in the brain. There’s an increase in the cortical fitness of the prefrontal cortices, and it can slow down the ageing process. The literature shows that there’s a neuroplasticity, and it’s affected by mindfulness meditation.

Was there much in the literature about the costs of implementing some of these things in nursing schools or hospitals?

Not really. Mindfulness meditation is not that expensive. You just need a facilitator to teach the technique, and most of the programs run over about eight weeks. I did a seven-week program on mindfulness meditation with nursing and midwifery students and it produced really good results. They came back and said they had improved sleep, even though many of them only went for a couple of weeks, but they still had the benefits of that and they still used the technique of mindfulness meditation at home.

They also commented about improving their cognition, concentration and learning.

Is mindfulness medication used in other areas of healthcare?

Yes, these days it’s being used in a lot of mental health wards, and for many cancer patients as well, because of the stress. It’s also being used now in schools.

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  1. Hi,

    where can this paper be found? Any idea on where I can get further information?