Resilience classes aim to improve mental health of a generation
The capacity to thrive in the face of adversity is at the heart of resilience and educators hope teaching students to bounce back will help the mental health of tomorrow’s adults.
What is happening?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mental illness affects around 20 per cent of the world’s children and adolescents. The organisation further predicts that depression, considered the leading cause of youth suicide, will become the world’s primary health concern in 2020.
Over recent decades, research into emotional resiliency — the capacity “to thrive in the face of adversity” — has promoted understanding about the factors that assist in the development of children into healthy adults. This body of knowledge has filtered into resiliency education programs that are a growing feature of primary and secondary school curriculums around the world.
Why is resilience being taught?
Resiliency programs have largely arisen in response to alarming mental health statistics that exist for children and young people worldwide. Evidence shows such programs are effective in reducing mental health risk factors as well as emotional and behavioural problems, and that by cultivating the ability to “bounce back” from hardship, children learn to live happy, productive lives.
Researchers say all children — advantaged and disadvantaged alike — have the same need for care, self-esteem and autonomy. They say emotional resilience can be taught to everyone, wherever they may appear on the “spectrum of adversity”.
Some say that resiliency education is needed now more than ever before: that young people are uniquely exposed to a faster-paced society; the bombardment of technology, social media and persistent, aggressive marketing strategies; an increase in academic testing and exams, and more family breakdowns.
Where is it happening?
Resilience education features in many schools across Europe, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and the United States. In Britain, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan recently allocated significant funding to projects that focus on resilience, self-confidence and respect. Similarly in Finland, recent reforms of the education system promote character, resilience and communication skills.
In the United States, school resilience programmes have been operating for over a decade; with public debate on the subject invariably reignited after violent incidents, including school shootings. However, while the trend has largely developed in response to mental health concerns, there is evidence that “emotionally literate” children also perform better academically.
One successful initiative adopted by schools across the country and overseas is the “RULER” program. Designed by the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence, the program has been effective in teaching children how to “recognise, understand, label, express and regulate” their emotions.
What are some benefits of resilience education?
Outcomes of resilience education include improved problem-solving skills; a more optimistic outlook; the ability to set realistic, achievable goals; a healthy sense of independence; social competency and enhanced academic performance. Resiliency in schools has also been found to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, bullying, substance use and aggressive, or reckless behaviour.
By teaching resilience, experts say children learn how to identify, articulate, differentiate and manage their own feelings as well as become more empathetic and sensitive to the feelings of others. Importantly, they come to understand that feelings of disappointment, sadness and frustration are a normal part of life.
What is helpful in building resilience?
Experts say that the most effective schools are those in which the principles of resiliency are embedded within the school culture rather than as stand-alone curriculum additions: schools where strong, supportive connections between staff, students and parents are forged; where empathy, optimism and positive self-image are nurtured and where success rather than failure is the focus.
Resilient schools also encourage healthy sleep, diet and exercise habits; promote supportive relationships including mentoring and “buddy” schemes and train staff in resilience so they may lead by example. By adopting a “whole of school” philosophy, they say every teacher-child interaction becomes an opportunity to encourage resilience.
What doesn’t help?
Professor Peter Gray, from Boston College in the United States, is among several researchers to have noted a marked decrease in resilience among tertiary students; asserting that they are increasingly afraid to fail, take risks or act with autonomy.
While acknowledging the serious effect mental illness can have on some students, he says a growing number have difficulty managing everyday “bumps in the road” such as “bad grades, breakups [or] being on their own for the first time”.
It is argued that overprotective parenting is to blame for this phenomenon: that although well intentioned, many parents feel pressured to “smooth the way” for their children, thereby denying them responsibility and preventing them from developing autonomy, emotional coping ability and the capacity to solve their own problems.
Research suggests that children of so-called “helicopter parents” tend to be more anxious, depressed and emotionally dependent than those who have been permitted more independence throughout their childhood. They argue that experiencing failure is important — even necessary — because it is in making mistakes, children learn how to adapt, improve themselves and emotionally handle setbacks.
American author Naomi Wolf is quoted as saying: “Obstacles … are developmentally necessary: they teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience and resourcefulness”. The evidence concurs: resilience education for children — learning to positively adapt to life’s “obstacles” — holds great value for children and for their communities.
Colleen Ricci : http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/resilience-classes-aim-to-improve-mental-health-of-a-generation-20151022-gkfjoy.html
photo credit: <ahref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/95107977@N02/14211244596″>Try Sail Day Carenne Special School Bathurst 20 May 2014</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Geetu is the Founding Director of Ei World Limited, one of Europe’s thought leaders in the application of emotional resilience and emotional intelligence in business. She is Author of Emotional Resilience: Know what it takes to be agile, adaptable and perform at your best (published by Pearson Education, 2015 with audiobook recorded by Ei World, 2015).