Yoga as complementary care for youths committed to juvenile institutions

Kerekes N. (2021) Yoga as Complementary Care for Young People Placed in Juvenile Institutions—A Study Plan. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 12, 877. doi:  10.3389/fpsyt.2021.575147

In Sweden every year there are over 1100 adolescents (12-21 years old) who get compulsory care at institutions run by the Swedish National Board of Institutional Care (SiS). These youngsters are characterized with substance related syndrome, aggressive and antisocial behaviors, high frequency of self-harm, and experience of physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse. They are those students who leave schools, or report failed studies. Majority of them have attention problems, depression, anxiety and impulsivity. They report alienation from their classmates and friends, and they miss social a support net to cope with the traumatic events in their life (SiS report, 2017). Importantly, a three-year follow up study showed that these youngsters have a dramatically increased risk for recidivistic criminal behaviour, continuous medical care and even untimely deaths (Stålhberg et al, 2017), showing the burning need of implementing improved or new, but effective treatments strategies and tools within this specific population.

Studies of yoga and meditation have recently established this method as a mainstream clinical tool within correctional environment. The health benefits of yoga specifically for imprisoned adults have been proven in an increasing extent and perspective (Raghuram et al., 2008; Rani et al., 2011; Bilderbeck et al., 2013; Kerekes et al., 2017, Sfendla et al., 2018, Kerekes et al., 2019). However, very rarely has the application of yoga in the treatment of institutionalized youngsters (15-18 ages) been targeted of academic research. In the present project we propose to repeat the recently published study about the psychobiological effect of yoga in prison inmate population of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kerekes et al, 2016; Kerekes et al., 2017, Sfendla et al., 2018, Kerekes et al., 2019) in youth institutions.

The aim of the present study is to evaluate, in a quasi-experimental study design, the psychological effects of yoga practice for institutionalized adolescents. The study will focus on the – in adult inmates - previously suggested reduction of aggressive, antisocial and impulsive behaviors and on the changes in the level of psychological distress. The proposed study population will utilize a variety of validated psychological and behavioral measures to assess the effect of a 6-week intervention of yoga on institutionalized young adults in a Western Swedish male and female institutes. Behavioral-cognitive tasks measuring attention and executive control, as well as self-report questionnaires on aggression and affect state will be utilized.

It is hypothesized that 6 weeks of yoga (in combination with the standard treatment within SiS) will reduce aggression, antisocial behavior and negative affect, depression and anxiety while it will lead to the increase of positive affect and enhance cognitive flexibility (in the form of increased impulse control and sustained attention).

As a consequence of the possible increased “well-being”, yoga may promote the effects of ongoing psychological treatments, provide a positive cooping tool to adolescents in institutions and potentially offer a prosocial activity upon release from the residential home.

If this hypothesis is confirmed, our results will extend last years’ Swedish findings on the benefits of yoga to a marginalized population and may strengthen the role of today’s yoga-activity within the juvenile institutional care on a national level.