, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 397–414 | Cite as

Mindfulness for the Mental Health and Well-Being of Post-Secondary Students: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

  • Jillian E. HalladayEmail author
  • Jamie L. Dawdy
  • Isabella F. McNamara
  • Allison J. Chen
  • Irene Vitoroulis
  • Natalia McInnes
  • Catharine Munn


High levels of distress in post-secondary students, alongside the real or perceived barriers to accessing services, highlight the need for evidence-based, accessible, and brief interventions for students such as mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). This systematic review and meta-analysis seeks to determine the effectiveness of MBIs for mental health outcomes in post-secondary students. We searched OVID MEDLINE In-Process, EMBASE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, PsychInfo, World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform,, Google Scholar, Proquest Dissertations, and OpenGrey. When possible, data were pooled using a random-effects model. Effect estimates were reported as standardized mean differences (SMDs) and then back-transformed into common scales of measurement. This review includes 41 randomized controlled trials reported in 49 studies. When comparing to a passive control, MBIs appear to reduce symptoms of depression [SMD − 0.49 (95% CI − 0.68, − 0.30)], anxiety [SMD − 0.53 (95% CI − 0.78, − 0.29)], and perceived stress [SMD -0.39 (95% CI -0.50, -0.27)] post-intervention (low-quality evidence). These findings were similar for shorter compared to longer interventions, although mindfulness-based cognitive therapy appeared to be the most effective for depression and anxiety. This review found no differential effects of MBIs compared to active comparators for depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, or perceived stress (low-quality evidence). Overall, MBIs of at least 2 weeks in duration appear to be a better alternative than no intervention for students with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress.


Systematic review Meta-analysis Mindfulness Post-secondary Students Mental health 



We would like to Thank Dr. Jan Young (McMaster Student Wellness Centre Medical Director), Dr. Mary Fletcher (Family physician at McMaster), and Nikki Carter (Social Worker at McMaster) for providing additional insight into the primary and secondary outcomes for the study.

Author Contributions

J.E.H. conceived of and designed the study, screened for included studies, engaged in extraction and verification, interpreted the data, and drafted and revised the manuscript. J.L.D. screened for included studies and engaged in extraction and verification. I.F.M., A.J.C., and I.V. engaged in extraction and verification. N.M. and C.M. are both senior authors on this manuscript and contributed equally. Senior authors listed alphabetically. N.M. provided methods support during study design and analysis. C.M. provided content support in the conception, design, and interpretation of the study. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for publication and agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


J.E.H. and C.M. have participated in a paid research project (grant—Ontario Mental Health Innovation Fund) implementing, analyzing, and disseminating the effects of a brief MBI for post-secondary students (KORU). Time spent on this review was not compensated. N.M. has received grant support from AstraZeneca, Merck, and Sanofi outside of the submitted work. Other reviewers do not have any conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

12671_2018_979_MOESM1_ESM.docx (250 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 250 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and ImpactMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Health SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Offord Centre for Child StudiesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural NeurosciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  5. 5.Department of MedicineMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  6. 6.McMaster Student Wellness CentreMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  7. 7.Department of PsychiatryMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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