Solving the mental health crisis demands an education revolution
Education in most industrialised societies is failing to generate human well-being. We all know it. We see the evidence everywhere: soaring rates of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, stress, abuse, addictions, self-harm and suicide, especially among children and adolescents. And it’s not likely to get better any time soon.
Even if we didn’t have that evidence, we’d still know in our hearts that the combination of English, maths, science, geography, history and a modern foreign language – the subjects endorsed by the British government as its ‘English Baccalaureate’, on which schools’ performance is judged – isn’t enough for people to thrive.
These subjects might (or might not) be useful, but they don’t set our souls on fire. They don’t light us up inside with joy and excitement. They don’t spark the kind of power, passion and purpose that’s needed to keep us mentally healthy.
What our young people need is nothing less than a global education revolution.
Yet when we start with policies, or with curriculum design, we get it all wrong. As Helen Keller once put it, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be eflt with the heart.”
As educators, our first and most important duty is to learn to thrive.
We need to put Deep Love at the centre of all our education systems – not love in a Hollywood romantic sense, but a `Love with a capital L’ that’s based on acceptance, forgiveness, compassion and gratitude towards ourselves, other people, and the world around us.
We need to reconnect with nature, creativity, community, and our own emotions – knowing that these four inter-related processes of reconnecting have a two-way relationship with Deep Love. When we reconnect, we increase the love that we feel for ourselves, other people, and the world. And when we start from Love – whether in the context of a recognised religion or spiritual path, or just from our own personal practice and experience – we increase our ability to reconnect meaningfully.
Has your light been dimmed recently? Are bureaucracy, exam preparation and marking bringing you down? Are you overwhelmed, under pressure, exhausted, overworked, swamped, stressed? If so, please treat the relighting of your own inner spark as an emergency.
Write your own prescription – whether it’s a walk through the woods, a couple of hours spent on a creative activity that you love, a gathering with friends who understand you, or even just quiet time to work through something in your personal life that’s been bothering you.
Then take it one level deeper.
Instead of just walking through the woods, walk in and with the woods. Listen to the birds; engage the trees in conversation.
In your painting, poetry, dancing or singing, try something you’ve never done before. Push the boundaries of what you think is ‘acceptable’. Don’t just settle for creating the nice fluffy thing that everyone loves: make art that means something to you. You don’t have to publish / share / broadcast / perform it to the whole world, if you don’t want to.
With your friends, don’t just chat about the weather: create a safe space for sharing your dreams, hopes and goals for the month ahead, and genuinely listening to what they’re saying too. Explore whether there’s something you can start to build together.
And when you find that quiet place, take the risk of melting the ice a little bit, and letting yourself feel the feelings that you’ve been shutting off for so long. Cry it all out, wail and howl out loud, as long as you can get to a place where it won’t upset the neighbours. Yes, it hurts like hell. But in the long run, your mental health will be better for it.
Allow yourself to love deeper than you ever dreamed you could. Melt yourself down, if you have to, and start over. Become more vulnerable. Become more passionate. Become more raw and messy and outside-the-box.
Become more alive.
Become the educator you wish you’d had as a child. And if the inspector, or the principal, or the dean doesn’t like it… make your own path.
Be a freelancer. Be a homeschooler. Be a tutor. Be a mover and shaker. Be the founder of a new kind of educational initiative that’s never been seen before. But whatever you are… be yourself.