A conversation with Patricia Rockman, of The Centre for Mindfulness Studies, about when mindfulness should be used for mental health and when it shouldn’t.

“Evidence-based” is a term Dr. Patricia Rockman hears often. As the co-founder of the not-for-profit Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto, Rockman and her colleagues are committed to bringing the most effective mindfulness-based interventions to the most disadvantaged and marginalized in our society—the poor, homeless, unemployed, and disabled—as well as the “front-line workers” who interact most directly with them.

According to the center, mental-health problems, including depression and anxiety, disproportionately impact these groups, which also face the greatest economic and social barriers to getting proper treatment.

The research is strong for mindfulness’ positive impact in certain areas of mental health, including stress reductionemotion and attention regulation, reduced rumination, for reducing mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and preventing depressive relapse. There’s also some early evidence that it can be advantageous for people struggling with addictions, and appears to be particularly promising for smoking cessation. And when suffering causes someone to “have a fixed and negative view of themselves … or their circumstances,” Rockman says, mindfulness can help give them access to a different perspective, helps them open to other possibilities, and enhances resilience and their capacity to tolerate distress.

But mindfulness isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, she warns. “I think it’s really important to know mindfulness is not a panacea,” Rockman says.  “We do need to step back and be discerning about what it’s good for—or at least not harmful—and where we need to be cautious.”

Who Should Use Mindfulness for Mental Health?

Clients in the center’s personal and community programs are screened before they start any of the mindfulness-based interventions. “If someone is too sick—too depressed, too dysregulated, has unprocessed trauma or is actively psychotic—and doesn’t have adequate supports, we let them know that this likely isn’t a good time for them to enter one of our programs. They really need to receive some other form of treatment first,” she says. “We need to know when to refer and when mindfulness is a suitable option for treatment or self-care.”

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