As part of its “Rise Above for Schools” program for building critical life skills among youth, Public Health England (PHE) – an executive agency under the Department of Health in the United Kingdom – unveiled a series of new resources for teachers, earlier in September 2017. As part of the program, secondary school teachers will integrate the topics in their Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) classes to teach students coping mechanisms for modern-day challenges, boost their resilience, and improve their mental health and well-being. Consultations are underway to make these sessions mandatory, similar to sex education classes.
The initiative was launched after a survey found that nearly one in five young people was a target of online bullying and one in three considered his/her body to be “too fat.” Teachers will engage with students, aged between 11 and 16, on issues such as bullying and online bullying, smoking, alcohol, exam stress, positive relationships, body image issues and online stress resulting from constant social media and internet exposure. Health officials believe that teaching youngsters such skills in school will increase their resilience into adulthood and in the workplace.
Adolescents will be shown videos created by young influencers such as vloggers and YouTubers to enable them to better understand issues. This will “get young people talking about the things that matter to them,” says John N. Newton, director of health improvement at PHE. Past research has found that supplementing regular classroom instructions with resilience skills can enhance children’s life outlook, prevent depression and anxiety, and improve grades.
Need to ‘navigate a minefield of challenges’
According to Newton, the youth have to “navigate a minefield of challenges while enjoying the benefits of technology.” With help from the new resources, young people will be able to develop coping mechanisms and life skills necessary to overcome challenges such as online bullying, exam stress and body image issues, all of which are rampant in the digital world. Jenny Fox, a subject specialist at the PSHE Association, says that today’s youth face diverse pressures which can be detrimental to their physical and emotional well-being.
Martin E.P. Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading authority in areas such as positive psychology, resilience and depression, has previously highlighted that although there has been an increase in the American standard of living, the purpose and meaning of life has diminished. According to him, this has been particularly harmful to children, with nearly 20 percent youth suffering from depression. These effects can persist into adulthood and lead to early death, lower job satisfaction, problems with health and relationships, and higher depression rates.
As per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data, rates of major depressive episodes among youth aged 12 to 17 have increased from 8.8 percent in 2005 to 12.5 percent in 2015. Depression and other mental health disorders, including substance use disorders, are key risk factors for teen suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), confirms that in 2014, suicide was the second-leading cause of death among youth aged 10-24. Recent CDC data indicate that suicide rates for youth aged 15-19 have been increasing since 2007.
Helping youth make positive, informed choices
Fox says that by addressing key issues faced by the youth, the new initiative will play an important role in educating them to “make positive, informed choices throughout their lives.” Students will be able to engage in active learning and discussions which will help them dwell on the social and emotional aspects of everyday issues. “The lessons are consistently well-matched to the needs of young people and enable them to demonstrate progress as their understanding and skills develop,” says Fox.
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