MP: Stressed civil servants 'should meditate more'

Taking some time off from the stress of spending cuts?
Taking some time off from the stress of spending cuts?
Alex Stevenson By

Groups of meditating civil servants could be pursuing eastern mindfulness methods to enhance their efficiency, if a Labour backbencher gets his way.

Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane thinks government departments can reduce sick leave by getting stressed civil servants to concentrate on their mental health in meditation training sessions.

"I've had an interest in mindfulness now for about five years," he told politics.co.uk.

"I haven't done the traditional eight-week course on mindfulness, but I've been practising myself."

Mindfulness originates from Buddhism, which categorises it as one of the seven factors of enlightenment.

It involves using breathing techniques to slow the body and mind down, allowing government officials struggling with the strain of spending cuts and warring Whitehall departments to focus on the present and ignore concerns about the past or future.

"You might say it's all airy-fairy, but it's passed rigorous science tests," Ruane added.

Analysis by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in 2004 found it was more effective for repeat episode depression than anti-depressants. The US Marines have used it since 2009, while American emergency services use mindfulness to treat trauma.

Ruane hopes the technique, taught over an eight-week period, can be applied to bring benefits across society.

Children as young as five could be taught mindfulness techniques in schools in order to improve their mental health, he suggested. One-third of young people have suffered a psychiatric episode compared to just one in ten of elderly people.

"It's cheap to implement, it has no long-term lasting ill effects and it puts the individual in control," he said.

"For these reasons I think the minimum approach from government departments is they should seriously investigate it for its potential and use."

Most of the government departments he questioned about the impact mindfulness-based practice can have on reducing workplace stress and staff absences said they were not interested in the enlightened approach.

But the Ministry of Defence has appointed a 'health and wellbeing champion', the Commons is "considering the contribution mindfulness-based practice" could have and the Department of Health is piloting a mindfulness based stress reduction programme across two directorates.

"The evaluation will inform decisions about further roll out," health minister Daniel Poulter said.

"The department's health and well-being strategy and programme of activities for staff includes a mental health policy and a variety of activities to aid emotional well-being.

"The Employee Assistance Programme offers counselling support, which draws on cognitive behavioural techniques closely related to mindfulness-based methods."

Mental health illnesses will put a bigger burden on individuals, their family and society than any other kind of disease on the planet, the World Health Organisation has warned.

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