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 by substance-related syndrome, aggressive and antisocial behaviors, a high frequency of self-harm, and experience of physical, sexual, and/or psychological abuse. They are those students who leave school or report failed studies. The majority of them have attention problems, depression, anxiety, and impulsivity. They report alienation from their classmates and friends, and they miss social support net to cope with the traumatic events in their life (SiS report, 2017). Notably, a three-year follow-up study showed that these youngsters have a dramatically increased risk for recidivistic criminal behavior, continuous medical care, and even untimely deaths (Stålhberg et al., 2017), showing the burning need to implement 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 the correctional environment. The health benefits of yoga, specifically for imprisoned adults, have been proven to 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 by academic research. In the present project, we propose to repeat the recently published study about the psychobiological effect of yoga in prison incarcerated person 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 present study aims to evaluate the psychological effects of yoga practice on institutionalized adolescents in a quasi-experimental study design. The study will focus on the – in adult incarcerated people - 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 Western Swedish male and female institutes. Behavioral-cognitive tasks measuring attention and executive control and self-report questionnaires on aggression and affect state will be utilized.

It is hypothesized that six weeks of yoga (in combination with the standard treatment within SiS) will reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, negative affect, depression, and anxiety. At the same time, it will increase 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 coping 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 year’s 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.