Monday, 16 May 2016

Mental Health in Young People

I am in love with Natasha Devon after reading her Guardian article about being sacked as the Mental Health Tsar because it led me down the path of watching her TEDxYouth talk hereand then her conference talk here.

She is someone who obviously really cares about children’s mental health and knows that things need to change.

This is something that is very dear to my heart as a mum with 2 children and mental health problems in my extended family.

What I was shocked by reading the Guardian article was that rates of childhood depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders are up by 600%!!!! 

Within the last year I have been attending training courses around youth work and the first one I attended last year was about mental health. I was shocked that evening to learn that people in their early 20s were glad that they weren't growing up as teenagers now. Only just not teenagers themselves, at least 2 of the participants said that things are changing that much for teenagers that they were glad they were out of it.

Here are some of the main things about that I learnt on that course:
  1. stress lasts 20-60 minutes: that is that its effect on a human body lasts 20-60 minutes. As opposed to ducks who flap to get rid of excess energy, humans have no automatic way to reduce the impact of stress.
  2. Human beings need to feel they have choice otherwise they feel trapped.
  3.  Emotional resilience, which allows you to bounce back, DOES NOT come from being stressed or under pressure.
Looking at the statistics in the Guardian article and remembering the points above, it seems that things are getting out of control for our young people. The problem is that even though Natasha and many others (e.g. Ken Robinson) have been saying for ages that things need to change, it seems that many of the changes that have been implemented recently are going to make things worse NOT better. 

Over the last decade of home educating, I have seen the result of changes in schools as part of the home education community in my area. It seems that there are people taking their children out of school in ever-increasing numbers because they don't like the stress that their kids are put under at ridiculously young ages. This can't be right. 

As Ken Robinson said in his TED Talk - Bring on the learning revolution! - children are one of our natural resources and we are cannot afford to waste our young people's talents. Again this is one of major reasons I home educate and I have written about it in previous posts (here and here): I want my children to grow up with passion, and knowing their passions

Ever since Ken Robinson's - Do Schools Kill Creativity TED Talk back in 2006 (still the most viewed from TED ever!!) things don't seem to have shifted much although ironically schools now test more then they did back then.

Around the same time as that TED Talk Natasha created a body confidence lesson based on her own experiences with bulimia and depression which she talked about at the TEDex talk here and summarised below:

"They [eating disorders] would not happen if we didn't live in a culture that told us that if we looked different our lives would be better"

"We live in a world that provides fertile soil where low self-esteem can flourish."

"Loving yourself has to come from within"

The self-esteem team and Body Gossip education program are definitely things that I am going to be looking into and discussing with my both my ds and dd.

The talk that Natasha did at the Conference in April was about the mental health issues of young people and what a massive problem they are. She stated that at the crucial developmental stage of our children's young brains where they need:

  1. safety
  2. nurturing
  3. valuing
  4. a creative outlet to express their emotions in a positive way
  5. space and time to think
  6. time to play
  7. support
  8. someone who will listen to them without judgement
they are getting academic pressure and stress: "the education system is giving with one hand and taking away with the other."

She states that school is an environment that de-constructs self-esteem and low self-esteem is the key diagnostic criteria for the 4 most common mental illnesses in children - anxiety, depression, self-harming and eating disorders - the ones that have increased 6 fold in recent times.

Our children don't need stress or academic pressure to be able to deal with it or acclimatise them to it for later life. They aren't adults yet: their minds aren't ready for that. 

Mentally healthy and resilient adults are grown out of children who have such traits as: self-esteem, a healthy body image, positive self-belief, empathy for other people and the planet, a passion for life, an ability to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes, accountability for their actions, etc.

As Natasha says "well-being needs to be at the heart of any curriculum and education does not mean anything unless it happens within the context of a healthy mind." I hope someone starts listening but if history is anything to go by, I am not holding my breath. However what we can all do is let our children know that their mental health is way more important than any test result.

I have never told my children that they cannot go to school. They are free to choose every day of their lives. A fair number of their home ed friends have chosen to go at various times of their academic careers and they have always done really well. When you choose to take charge of your own education whether it be at home, at school, whilst travelling, later in life, etc. it is amazing what you can do. 

Passion + desire + freedom = whatever you can dream is possible

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