In a world that shows no signs of slowing down, stress and depression levels are growing at an incredible rate. An increase in handheld technology allows us to disconnect from our immediate reality and simultaneously reminding us of global atrocities, makes switching off almost impossible. As social media seeks to constantly compare us to one another and distract us from what is going on around us, mental health problems continues to grow.
The World Health Organisation recently said that depression is soon going to overtake cancer and heart disease as the most prevalent illness globally. Alongside this, children as young as six years old are suffering from high levels of stress. Claire Kelly, who works with charity mindfulness in schools said ‘the average levels of anxiety for a teenager today is equivalent to the level of them being hospitalised in the 1950s.’ The Mental Health Foundation stated that 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 70% have not had appropriate intervention at an early enough age.
Last month the Department for Education launched one of the largest mental health trials in the world, which included up to 370 UK schools. As pressure mounts on children to succeed academically, schools throughout the UK have started teaching “mindfulness” programmes. Training teachers to execute “mindfulness” sessions for school pupils, has seen great results in the improvement of children’s mental wellbeing. When Transport for London introduced a stress-management programme in 2010 which included “mindfulness”, days off sick due to stress, depression and anxiety fell by more than 70 per cent.’
Mindfulness is recognised by The National Institute of Clinical Excellence as an efficient treatment for mental illness. With schools across the country beginning to adopt “mindful” practices into the classroom, Claire said ‘studies on students and “mindfulness” have found pupils are less anxious, less at risk of depression and have greater metacognitive awareness; the ability to step back from thinking and noticing how their mind is working.’ She said that although “mindfulness” is ‘not a silver bullet and is not something that will just cure you’, one of her organisations long-term goals is that ‘when they do hit difficult times, they have got something to resource themselves with and maybe take the edge off the difficulty.’
Throughout human history, we have evolved to deal with stress. In a life-threatening situation, the adrenaline your body produces is counteracted by relaxation and downtime. When the human body becomes stressed, it releases adrenaline to heighten senses and create more energy, faster reactions and deeper breathing. To restore the body’s natural energy, a chemical called Cortisol is released. When a person is experiencing stress every day, the body makes more Cortisol than it can properly release, which can infringe upon the brain’s ability to function properly. However, “mindfulness” can retrain the way the amygdala (the stress centre of the brain that instigates the release of adrenaline) responds to and deals with stress.
Whilst teachers and parents set the model for what adulthood looks like, it is believed that they should practice “mindfulness”. If those who spend a lot of time around children learn how to control their stress, it will have a beneficial impact.
Whilst teachers and pupils alike are working overtime to meet deadlines, pass exams and work to the curriculum, learning becomes even more difficult. Society needs to look inside itself and at the education system and realise that changes need to be made. Until then, “mindfulness” may be the most efficient means of managing teacher, parent and pupil stress levels.
See: www.mindfulnessinschools.org for more info