The focus in the third session is switching back again to the UK. First up is Dick Moore, a passionate advocate for mental health in children and teens.
“How are you?” he asks. Statistically, 26% of us will be suffering from a cold, 46% from an injury, and about 70 of 460 in the theatre from some emotional or mental health issue.
He is showing a photo of his family: Dick, his wife, and their four boys. Life was kind, with decent schools and university opportunities. Three of the four coped well with life’s ups and downs. The fourth, Barney, lacked confidence to be in a group of people. He had a serious relationship, which sadly ended. He tried to win her back, and became obsessive, to the point of saying life was not worth living without her. He was eventually sectioned, but he argued his way out. Dick gave him a letter saying that he was loved, but Barney didn’t read it. Later he took his own life.
Dick and the rest of the family were heart-broken. Eventually the storms gave way to some surprisingly silver linings. The relationship end wasn’t the underlying cause of Barney’s action. Just as diabetes is a physical condition, so depression is a mental condition that can’t just be ‘got over’. Barney killed himself because he wasn’t equipped to deal with the storms of life.
Dick doesn’t blame anyone in particular. But in the world we’ve become obsessed with hard evidence and measurements – perform better, look better, and be better. Young people are under more pressure than ever, and the outcome is occasionally emotional turmoil. The World Health Organization estimates a 300% increase in self-harm in the UK in the last 10 years.
If you were to work out in the gym for an hour, the release of endorphins makes you feel good. Self-harm leads to an immediate release of endorphins. Why haven’t we explained to young people how they can cope with pain without resorting to physical harm? Suicide among young men accounts for more deaths than AIDs, violent crime and road traffic accidents added together.
Worry, anxiety and stress are part of life. At what point do they become problems? Life is in three parts: sometimes fun, sometimes normal, and sometimes stormy. If we are lucky, the storms are short-lived squalls. Others experience longer-lived storms or even hurricanes.
How are we teaching children resilience? The New Economics Foundation suggests we can help young people be more connected through noticing the world around them, being physically active, engaging with new ideas, doing random acts of kindness. Dick argues we need more – a fundamental change in attitude, led by schools and universities.
We need to explore what and how we are teaching and assessing at every level. Prioritising mental health will have a direct and positive impact on academic performance. We need to embed social learning in all academic institutions, in every lesson, not as an appendage. Edutopia is working on this in the US.
Dick encourages anyone with influence to encourage this change, so that young people in the future can dance, rather than drown, in the rain.