There has been much written on the increased prevalence of anxiety, stress and depression among Australian students. It is thought that in excess of one in four Australian students will suffer from associated conditions. Experts have labelled the increase an ‘epidemic’ with the Black Dog Institute citing a 20% increase of youth anxiety diagnoses between 2012 and 2017.
The Mindful Schools organisation posits that many students suffer from “toxic stress.” They state that this “impairs attention, emotion and mood regulation, sleep, and learning readiness… Even more troubling, prolonged exposure to childhood toxic stress has lifelong impacts on mental and physical health.”
There is much speculation as to the causes of this alarming phenomenon. It is thought that a mix of mass media and social media messaging, an unrealistic cultural focus on perfectionism, a shift towards high stake testing and a decline in coping and resilience have all contributed.
Our school has a genuine and abiding commitment to the wellbeing of our students. We have a Wellbeing model that focuses on supporting our students’ development through explicitly teaching a targeted wellbeing curriculum, through implicitly reinforcing wellbeing messages through our language and organisational choices and through offering experiential learning opportunities for our students to safely expand their relevant skillsets.
In thinking about how to address the growing anxiety and stress problem, our school is adopting proactive strategies that aim to enhance our students’ resilience levels and offer them an emotional toolkit to draw upon in times of stress.
From Pre-School through to Year 12, we are implementing Mindfulness as part of our regular approach as a mechanism to decrease student stress, develop coping strategies and encourage greater positivity. Mindful Schools defines mindfulness as encompassing a range of approaches which are designed to foster “a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and surrounding environment”. In shifting our focus from our worries to the here and now we can transition from a mental state that is reactive and entrenched in an emotional fight, flight or freeze state to a more rational and cognitive approach. Through incorporating techniques which promote positivity and optimism we can adjust our outlook and enhance our capacity to thrive.
We are implementing this model in a number of ways throughout the School. In Pre-School and Kindergarten we have adopted the practices of yoga and meditation. Throughout the Junior School we have adjusted the timetable to implement a 15 minute daily Wellbeing session where various Mindful strategies are practised. Similarly, throughout Years 6 – 10 our new Kesher model establishes daily time to focus on our students’ sense of wellbeing, mindfulness and social connection. Furthermore, Mindfulness is presented as part of our Year 6 Kindle program and is offered to senior students and staff in our dedicated Mindfulness studio.
It is hoped that through proactively focusing on embedding a culture of mindfulness and positivity throughout our whole school that our students will be better equipped to cope with life’s challenges and will also adopt mindsets that make them more optimistic and open to new learning experiences.