Improve Mental Health in Disadvantaged Populations with Mindfulness

Improve Mental Health in Disadvantaged Populations with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness training could be integrated into educational settings on a city, state, or national level, thus promoting health and mental health. Integrating mindfulness-based practices into educational settings could offer the potential to promote a more positive path for our children, something that would be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged urban youth like the kids in our studies.” –  Tamar Mendelson


Disadvantaged populations have a disproportionate share of mental health issues. Indeed, the lower the socioeconomic status of an individual the greater the likelihood of a mental disorder. It is estimated that major mental illnesses are almost 3 times more likely in the disadvantaged, including almost double the incidence of depression, triple the incidence of anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse, and eating disorders. These higher incidences of mental health issues occur, in part, due to mental health problems leading to unemployment and poverty, but also to the stresses of life in poverty.


The disadvantaged are much more likely to be uninsured, not have mental health services available, and less likely to seek treatment. In addition, when they are treated it is almost exclusively with drugs. These often do not work, have adverse effects, or are not taken as prescribed and are thus ineffective. Most psychotherapies were developed to treat disorders in affluent populations and are not affordable or sensitive to the unique situations and education levels of the disadvantaged. So, very few disadvantaged people with mental health problems are treated with psychotherapies.


Hence, there is a great need for alternative treatments for the mentally ill disadvantaged. One increasingly popular alternative is mind-body practices. These include meditation, tai chi, qigong, yoga, guided imagery, etc. In today’s Research News article “Mind–Body Approaches to Treating Mental Health Symptoms Among Disadvantaged Populations: A Comprehensive Review.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:

Burnett-Zeigler and colleagues review the published research literature on the effectiveness of mind-body practices for the treatment of mental health issues in disadvantaged populations.


They found that in general mind-body techniques are feasible, acceptable, and efficacious with disadvantaged populations. The published research reports than Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs produced significant improvements in disadvantaged populations in general health, social functioning, vitality, physical and emotional role functioning, stress, mindfulness, anxiety, self-compassion, life satisfaction, depression, relationships, awareness, self-acceptance, and self-empowerment, nonreactivity, improved self-care, and decreased distress. The research also reports that yoga practice results in significant improvements in distressed mood, depression, emotional well-being, body weight, depression, and disease-specific quality of life. Other mind-body techniques were also reported to have similar benefits.


Hence the published research studies are fairly uniform in finding that mind-body practices can be successfully implemented with disadvantaged populations and produce significant mental health benefits. Although much more research is needed, these are exciting findings. Mind-body techniques show tremendous promise for the mental health needs of the disadvantaged. They can be implemented cost-effectively and many of these practices can be employed at home on convenient schedules. Hence mind-body practices, if implemented broadly, may be major contributors to improved mental health in disadvantaged populations. This, in turn, may lead to better employment possibilities and a route out of poverty.


So, improve mental health in disadvantaged populations with mindfulness.


“Research and experience have shown that meditation-based or contemplative practices have proven to be beneficial with populations that are considered at risk, marginalized, or oppressed and with those who are incarcerated.– Sadye Logan


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary

Burnett-Zeigler, I., Schuette, S., Victorson, D., & Wisner, K. L. (2016). Mind–Body Approaches to Treating Mental Health Symptoms Among Disadvantaged Populations: A Comprehensive Review. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 22(2), 115–124.



Mind–body approaches are commonly used to treat a variety of chronic health conditions, including depression and anxiety. A substantial proportion of individuals with depression and anxiety disorders do not receive conventional treatment; disadvantaged individuals are especially unlikely to receive treatment. Mind–body approaches offer a potentially more accessible and acceptable alternative to conventional mental health treatment for disadvantaged individuals, who may not otherwise receive mental health treatment. This review examines evidence for the efficacy of mind–body interventions for mental health symptoms among disadvantaged populations. While rates of utilization were relatively lower for racial/ethnic minorities, evidence suggests that significant proportions of racial/ethnic minorities are using complementary health approaches as health treatments, especially prayer/healers and natural or herbal remedies. This review of studies on the efficacy of mind–body interventions among disadvantaged populations found evidence for the efficacy of mind–body approaches for several mental and physical health symptoms, functioning, self-care, and overall quality of life.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *