World Mental Health Day at GGS

David Bott

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In the late 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, the US Army War College began using the acronym VUCA to describe the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the world’s geopolitical climate. Whilst now, the specific tensions of the 80s and 90s have long faded, and we are living in an age characterised by fewer wars, less violence, increased rates of education, less disease, and more leisure time (Pinker, 2018), the sense of VUCA doesn’t seem to have left us.

In some ways, the period of our lives that we call ‘adolescence’ has always been defined by VUCA. The emotional volatility, biological uncertainty, social complexity and all-round ambiguity of this life stage create challenges for all of us. Add to this the expanding impact of connected technologies, news reports full of natural disasters and humanitarian crises, and a shifting educational and employment landscape and it’s not hard to understand why so many of our students are struggling to cope. 

The estimated number of people in the world currently living with a mental or substance use disorder tipped over 1 billion in 2016. Perhaps surprisingly, Australia continues to have one of the highest recorded levels of mental health issues of any country. As educators, what we particularly need to appreciate is that, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. 

In Australia alone, there are hundreds of thousands of our school students living with a mental health condition.

Thankfully, in Australia and internationally, there is a growing recognition that schools have an obligation to both support students in need and to help build mental resilience in all students. As the WHO acknowledges, two keys factors that help protect against mental illness are:

  1. the building of wellbeing skills in students;
  2. developing greater awareness of mental health issues and the factors that contribute to mental health.

Importantly, the above highlights two of the foundational goals of Positive Education. So it’s not surprising that emerging empirical research from countries including Mexico, India, Israel, and Australia is finding that Positive Education has the ability to significantly enhance the mental health of students. 

There is volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. And we are getting better at preparing students to cope and thrive in a VUCA world.

That’s not to say that we have all the answers. As we enter the second decade of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar School, and continue our work supporting hundreds of schools around the world, we still have so much to learn. 

As you may know, this week the world observes United Nations’ World Mental Health Day on October 10. We thought we might take this opportunity to share with you some of the specific and ongoing strategies that we are implementing to help raise awareness of mental illness and support mental health:

  1. Talk about it (even more!) – reducing stigma
    This week, students and teachers will engage with stories of mental illness and recovery in Positive Education lessons and in other areas of school life. Some of the resources we are using are included below.

  2. We’re all in this together
    Looking after each other and encouraging help seeking behaviour are both fundamental to helping create a nurturing, supportive, protective, resilient environment. We encourage students and staff this week to continue asking: “R U OK?”

  3.  Be proactive
    World Mental Health Day is an important reminder that in addition to supporting others with mental health issues, we need to cultivate our own wellbeing. The ‘5 Ways To Wellbeing’ provide simple, evidence based ways to improve mental health that are based on extensive international research: Connect, Be Active, Keep Learning, Be Aware, Help Others.

  4. Make a #mentalhealthpromise
    In support of the 2018 World Mental Health Day initiative, staff and students are encouraged to make their own #mentalhealthpromise. This can be to raise awareness about mental illness and help to reduce stigma, to commit to helping a friend or family member who may be struggling, or to implement a new wellbeing practice into our own lives. These promises can be displayed on a Promise Wall, or made online.
While our students are growing up in uncertain and volatile times, there is also tremendous hope. As Steven Pinker writes in his new book, Enlightenment Now:
“As we care about more of humanity, we’re apt to mistake the harms around us for signs of how low the world has sunk rather than how high our standards have risen.”

And we should have high standards. Like never before, we are beginning to understand how to nurture wellbeing. We have evidence-based resources and years of practice wisdom at our disposal to help protect the mental health of our students’. It is our responsibility to harness them effectively.

 

Resources we are using this week to help talk about mental illness:

Headspace – Real Stories
The Stand Up Kid – Time to Change
What’s so funny about mental illness?
The voices in my head
You can’t ask that (Episodes on Eating Disorders, Schizophrenia and Suicide Survivors)
Living with high functioning anxiety
How to connect with depressed friends
SANE Australia - People like us

References

Pinker, S. (2018). Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress . Viking.

Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 (GBD 2016) Results. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2017

Positive Education (Seligman, M. E. P., Adler, A. (2018). Positive Education. In J. F. Helliwell, R. Layard, & J. Sachs (Eds.), Global Happiness Policy Report: 2018. (Pp. 52 - 73). Global Happiness Council.) 

David Bott
David Bott

David Bott is the Associate Director of the Institute of Positive Education. David has been involved in training thousands of teachers from hundreds of schools around the world in designing, implementing and sustaining individual and whole-school approaches to wellbeing.