Mental Health and Well-being - Make it a Focus at Schools and Universities!
There is one area in all educational systems that has received little attention until recently, but which should probably be developed further and become a priority at schools and at universities: mental health and well-being.
Immunising our Students Against Mental Health Issues
If we look at the data, we can observe that the number of children, teenagers and young adults with mental health issues around the world is on the rise. Primary and secondary schools, as well as universities, could play a vital role. They could even be the key to preventing this trend from getting worse. And help is already available, i.e. in the form of the science of positive psychology. This science presents us with evidence-based answers and solutions to this problem. It originates from the research on how to treat human suffering but has taken on a different approach. Instead of focusing on what is wrong, positive psychology focuses on the development of human strengths and informs us how we can live our lives well. As it turns out, it can protect us from mental health problems now and in the future.
What Really Makes us Happy?
The longest study on happiness, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, summarised in a must-see TED talk by its current director, Dr. Robert Waldinger, has shown that there is only one factor that matters most if we want to have a long, happy, mentally and physically healthy and fulfilled life. It is not money or fame, contrary to what we are led to believe, what matters most is the quality of the human relationships we build.
The case for Character Education at Schools and Universities
If that is so, why is character education, the development of human strengths and the knowledge on how to live life well not as important as maths, English or sciences? Why can this not be a focus in our educational systems? Where else do we want children, teenagers and young adults to learn and acquire these skills?
Especially since there is strong evidence that positive psychology can help to reduce mental health issues by preventing them from occurring in the first place. But, there is more, the research in positive psychology has led to the birth of another scientific field, i.e. Positive Education.
Thanks to the efforts of Geelong Grammar School in Australia and their cooperation with the father of positive psychology, Dr. Martin Seligman, and the University of Pennsylvania, Positive Education became a reality. Positive Education is positive psychology applied to the context of education, at schools and universities, and this approach has already been implemented at numerous educational institutions around the world.
The most courageous and visionary schools have adopted Positive Education as a whole-school approach and undertaken major changes in the school’s organisational structures and its approach towards teaching and learning. One of the most recent examples is the University of Buckingham, which became the first positive university in Europe in 2017.
Positive Education and its Effect on Standardized Test Scores
If you are a parent, would you not agree that besides academic achievement, you would also want your children to learn how to live their lives well? How to be happy? How to have strong and healthy relationships? And, wouldn’t you agree that school might be a great place for your children to learn just that? A place where they spend countless hours of their daily lives. And implementing Positive Education has another great advantage: focusing on life skills and character education, as the studies by Dr. Alejandro Adler have found, also leads to a significant increase in standardized test scores amongst students.
Positive Education - Enabling Students to Achieve Their Full Potential
If we want to prepare our students for their future, it is important to understand and accept that their mental health and well-being is as important as their academic achievement. In fact, it is necessary in order for them to achieve their full potential. Positive Education has already proven that it is a visionary approach that can change the educational landscape for the better.