Tracey Crouch has opened up about how practising mindfulness has helped her cope with high levels of anxiety and depression.
Speaking at the launch of the Mindful Nation UK Report on 20 October, the 40-year-old Sports Minister admitted she is an advocate for mindfulness in parliament and said she had previously found it difficult to talk about her reasons for practising the technique.
“I suffered from high levels of anxiety, which spiralled into depression,” Crouch said. “I’d never done meditation – the first time I practised mindfulness meditation I wasn’t convinced.
“The second time I was a complete convert.”
Crouch said doctors had prescribed her anti-depressants and told her to go for therapy, but she found that the combination wasn’t working for her.
She first heard of mindfulness when she received an email from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, after which she decided to speak to her GP about it.
“He agreed to take me off anti-depressants if I did mindfulness,” Crouch added.
“It’s an incredible way of dealing with everyday stress if we build it into our everyday lives.”
Crouch was speaking at the launch of the Mindful Nation UK Report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on mindfulness, having previously been a chair of the group.
According to the report, mindfulness is a practice that focuses on paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, while having an attitude of curiosity and kindness.
It is typically cultivated by a range of simple meditation practices, but can also be a natural instinct for some people.
Crouch said as a local MP, she gets many people coming to her surgeries to talk about being on anti-depressants and she feels privileged to be able to say “I know, I’ve been there”.
She added: “I practice as much as I can. Being here, this is the start of something, not the end.”
Speaking exclusively to HuffPost UK Parents, Crouch said she believes that removing any stigma around speaking about mental health will be pivotal in the acceptance of mindfulness as a beneficial practice.
“Normalising meditation is very important, as for many people it is vital,” she said.
“However, a lot of people won’t realise it’s so important, because they don’t need to do meditation, they’re naturally mindful people.
“In my younger days, I found sport was a way of enabling me to forget my anxiety and stress to create that space within me.
“As you get older, you just have less time to be naturally mindful and therefore actually practising meditation has been helpful in that sense for me.”
She added: “If we can normalise talking about mental health, then we will normalise talking about ways to deal with mental health conditions, such as mindfulness.
“That’s what will help people develop and continue the research, and we can start making proper evidence-based policy on it.”
Crouch said that it’s not always “one size fits all” when it comes to dealing with people’s mental health.
She added: “Therapy didn’t work for me because I didn’t feel like I had a deep problem, but mindfulness did, so it’s about trying to find what works for you, – whether that’s being naturally mindful or practising meditation.”
The Mindful Nation UK Report is the result of a 12 month inquiry into how mindfulness training can benefit services and institutions, and the launch marks the first time mindfulness has been seriously considered as a national policy.
The inquiry was launched after the Oxford Mindfulness Center came into parliament to train MPs and parliamentarians in mindfulness. The session was popular and well-subscribed.
After the MPs and parliamentarians showed interest in the practice, The Mindfulness Initiative worked with 80 experts in the UK and abroad to put together he Mindful Nation UK Report, which outlines their recommendations for how the government should implement mindfulness in mental health policies, and in three other policy areas as well: education, the workplace and the criminal justice system.
Their suggestions include introducing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for adults at risk of depression, creating mindfulness teaching schools and mindfulness training for government staff in the education and criminal justice sectors.
You can read all recommendations laid out in the published report online.
Professor Mark Williams, clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford said while the positive effects of mindfulness can be seen across all four policy areas, improving mental health by using mindfulness is key.
“We need to train ourselves to reclaim the innate quality of mindfulness, having care and compassion to make sure we have control,” he said speaking during the launch.
“Mindfulness is as good as anti-depressants in preventing depression, the report has shown. We need to maintain focus and enthusiasm for mindfulness to remove the stigma.”
The report acknowledged that mindfulness has been recommended as a treatment for mental health issues since 2004, but the availability of these courses are variable or completely absent in some areas, with 72% of GPs wanting to refer patients to mindfulness courses but only one in five having access to one in their area.
Jess Morden, Labour MP and co-chair of the Mindfulness AGGP group told HuffPost UK Parents she is hopeful the reports recommendations will be put into practice.
“I think the fact we had three government ministers at the launch as well as MPs of all parties from the Lords, who are going to listen closely to some of the report findings is particularly encouraging,” said Morden.
“Nobody is saying mindfulness is the answer to everything, but all the experts came together for this report which shows how good it will be if we took on board and started to implement some more mindfulness training and research.”
Morden added that having seen the benefits reaped from mindfulness training by MPs in the House of Commons, it made her realise the importance of simple techniques that can help people step back and appreciate the moment.
She said: “Mindfulness can release your stress levels, not to mention all the benefits for the criminal justice system, health services and education.
“It’s something I use and I’ve seen the benefits are very prominent.”
Tim Loughton, co-chair of the AGGP group said now is a pivotal moment for change in the teaching of mindfulness, adding: “It’s time has come, the important part is to make sure it gets off to a good start.”