Education, Health & Wellbeing

Mental Health: Wellbeing in Education?

School takes up a huge majority of our childhoods and teenage years, yet what are we really learning?

education-reform

For those who have finished, we all have very varied, and often strong opinions of that time. Some look upon memories of school in disgust, some in adoration, and others are more indifferent. So what is actually happening here? Why do some come out the other end, absolutely relieved to be out of that hellhole, others have no strong emotional reaction at all, and others still who experienced a moving, and perhaps tearful farewell to their 13 years in the education system. (Incase you are interested, I fell into the latter category. A lot of tears.)

Education is something I am really interested in, and am considering as a career potential path. While I believe New Zealand has a decent system, there are a lot of ideas I have around how it could be improved or adapted. I’m thinking generally here, across all ages of schooling. However, as I finished high school most recently, those memories are most fresh.

First of all, as a nation, we have a huge problem with youth suicide. You may not see the relation, but I’m getting there…stay with me.

“The 15–24 year age group had the highest suicide death rate in 2012 (23.0 per 100,000 population).”
Health: Suicide. (2016). Retrieved October 29, 2016, from this website.

“New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world…In a normal week two teenagers or two children kill themselves.”
McConnell, G. (2016, October 16). The highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world. Retrieved October 29, 2016, from this website.

It’s terrifying, it’s devastating, and it’s so preventable.

I have a wish that wellbeing be interwoven into the school curriculum from the get go. How spectacular would it be to engage young children in conversation about how they are, what they are feeling and build up their resilience in a classroom setting. Now, to an extent I’m sure this is already done; kids learn about their feelings, how to express themselves, and how to relate to others through both class lessons and at lunch times. That is brilliant. But what I am proposing is different to that. I think part of the school day should be devoted to instilling students with lessons in wellbeing. That sounds a bit ambiguous, but to me it looks like: meditation, self-reflection, confidence-building and self-expression. These activities could take many forms, and would be able to be incorporated into already established and traditional subjects like Science, Music, P.E., English, and even Maths.

I picture the subject developing and evolving as the students get older; topics would be tailored to their level and understanding. Primary aged children, for example, might learn about how to express their feelings in a healthy way, the basics of meditation, and do activities around teamwork and boosting confidence. If you’re familiar, think Adventure Based Learning type stuff. (Also common at school and holiday camps.) For intermediate aged children, this could be extended to learning what it means to be mentally healthy, identifying signs of unhealthy behaviours, and managing stress. Through high school these sorts of topics could be unpacked at a higher level, always making sure the content is appropriate for the age group, and for the individual.

I feel that ensuring mental wellbeing of students (and staff) in education is an absolute necessity, and it should be at the centre of learning and development. Studies have shown that a calm mind retains information better, and conversely the stressed mind has more difficulty absorbing and retaining information. Everything starts with the wellbeing of the mind, like a foundation. From there, everything else should be built on top. Once a student has the skills to grow and maintain a healthy mind, the learning and development should be second nature.

I know from personal experience that mental health is a serious issue among teens, and New Zealand has acquired the stats to prove it. I have found that by opening up about my own experiences, I have heard others’ stories about their own struggles, and learned more and more about how common it is, and additionally, how taboo it can initially be to raise these topics. Yet that is what it takes: a dialogue.

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