The “Mental Health America” report presents some tough statistics, especially for youth, and a rare opportunity to take care of the problem, rather than the symptoms.
Yesterday I went with my friend to a rock concert at Park Raanana (Israel). As we were driving on the highway, the low-fuel light started flashing. A bright orange light illuminated the car. At the same time - the route on our waze app changed its colour from purple to red. We started worrying that we might get stuck, not to mention being late to the concert we were dying to get to (Fortisakharof!). Waze could not recognise our location, nor could it point us to a gas station nearby… pressure was running high.
A flashing fuel light will not turn-off itself. Time to get some fuel
The understanding that a problem would not solve itself, and that pressure will only stand in the way of solving it, got clearer as I was reading the Mental Health America report, which was published earlier this week, uncovering some disturbing stats about the mental healthcare crisis in US schools. The age group taking the majority of the heat is 11-17 y/o, with a 9% increase in those reaching out for mental care, alongside the biggest increase in severe symptoms of depression and anxiety. Suicidal tendency is also skyrocketing - 77,470 adolescents in the US reported having suicidal thoughts between January and September 2020.
This report puts on the table issues that are trying to grab our attention for a while. Way before Covid-19, American reports exposed a massive increase in teens’ depression and anxiety. 1 out of 3 gen Zs is diagnosed with depression, about 25% suffer from anxiety. The acceleration created by the Covid outbreak - with its health-related, social, political and economic challenges - is actually an opportunity to pay attention to the flashing light.
While education systems all over the world are focusing on technological solutions for remote learning and technical hacks for catching up with the pedagogical plans for this year - the real danger, the one threatening all the relevant population equally - without regards to their socio-demographics - is the emotional instability, within which there is no room for learning at all.
Teachers around the world are aching their lack of tools to protect their students from this whirlpool of emotions. Educational psychologists are going under. Psychiatric departments in hospitals are forced to send home teens in acute state. This picture is anything but optimistic, but - the light at the end of the tunnel might come from prevention, rather than treatment.
What if... instead of searching for mental healthcare solutions, we'll aspire to create mental health?
Many great theoreticians tried to get on the road to happiness, or at least the route getting us closer to well-being. Abraham Maslow, father of humanistic psychology, spoke about people’s need for self-realisation way back in the 60s. Albert Bandura, 95 y/o and considered to be the greatest living psychologist, came up with the term “Self Efficacy” to describe the connection between belief in your own ability to your motivation to take on a mission, to success in execution. What if we define these topics exactly - growth and self-realisation, trust and self-belief - as the goals of learning?
"The term ‘emotional welfare’ was first introduced in the middle of the 20th century, but gained importance in the beginning of the 21st century, with the establishment of positive psychology. This new field extended psychology’s interest from the sole focus on the reasons for mental illnesses and disturbances to include human strengths and capabilities that allow people to grow, flourish and experience happiness.. Emotional welfare is defined by a ratio of 3 to 1 between positive and negative feelings… it’s about being content with life, a sense of meaningful life, the existence of a goal and the creation of social ties”.
The above paragraph is part of an article by Shosh Zimmerman, manager of the department for assistance and prevention plans in the ministry of education, in Israel. “The term ‘flourishing’ is commonly used for describing people with mental welfare, fully functional, with the ability to connect socially, set goals for themselves and experience meaningful life“, says Zimmerman. “No doubt that the development of flourishing students is one of the roles of the education system, as these students will fulfil their learning potential, have a positive attitude towards school, meaningful relationships with their friends and teachers, and an ability to contribute to others”.
The flashing light is an opportunity to fill the tank with meaning, to create conditions in which the potential of students can reach its fullest, trust them, nurture them, allow them to thrive. Instead of focusing on the right equipment for remote learning or the curriculum we need to complete - it’s time to focus on where we want to go and on the way to get there.
BTW - we ended up making it on time to the concert. It was wonderful.
Yael Shafrir is the Co-Founder and CEO of ReSHuffle, a global platform for teenagers, allowing them to develop professionally and personally.