The success of our future depends on the prosperity of our children today. Given this, the mental health of our students is critical, not only for the student’s well being, but for the success of the whole.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the suicide rate among young people between the ages of 10 and 17 increased 70 percent from 2006 to 2016.
It’s estimated that 10-15 percent of high school kids are depressed. That’s 1 in 7 kids which equates to 6 million children. On top of that 14 percent of students were chronically truant, according to the US Department of Education. The numbers are staggering.
While schools often cite parenting and home life as the cause of truancy, truant and at risk youth often report issues such as depression, anxiety, poor relationships with teachers, alienation from peers, boring classes, and lack of interest in school as the cause.
Experts say if a child isn’t able to make or keep friends or if their academic performance and drive significantly change, parents should seek help. Disengagement is an early warning sign and a gateway to a whole host of issues not limited to truancy but also depression, suicide and crime, including violence and even murder.
The Parkland shooting is an example of a child who needed help but needs were not met. Friends, family and neighbors were worried about him. So were social workers, teachers and sheriff's deputies in two counties, but the red flags were ignored.
“The diathesis–stress model is a psychological theory that attempts to explain a disorder as the result of an interaction between a predispositional vulnerability and a stress caused by life experiences" .
The diathesis stress model can be explained by using an analogy of a cup and water to explain the human capacity to deal with stress. Naturally when the cup is full, the water overflows, the same way a human breaks down when the stress has exceeded their limit.
If our students are not taught how to empty their cup they may never understand how to cope with life’s stress, leading them to break down and resort to unresourceful methods of meeting their needs.
Some of us have been taught how to relieve our stress and empty our cup, by processing emotions, getting out of toxic situations and nurturing ourselves through the things we love. Things like taking walks, soaking in a bath, reading a good book, spending time with friends, enjoying a vigorous workout or any of the other things you enjoy can help relieve stress and make room in the cup.
Many generations ago a majority of children had a parent at home who was dedicated to their upbringing and this included their emotional development. However in today’s day and age, most families need two incomes just to survive.
The life skills that were traditionally taught in the home did not, and still have not, transferred to our educational system. Now that both parents have to work, we need to consider integrating these critical life lessons into their daily lessons at school.
No longer can we assume they are being taught in the home. The cost is too high for a failure of this magnitude. We must consider, when parents are absent or too busy to be there for their children, who is teaching our children the basic skills of life?
Who is teaching them how to navigate their internal world? How do they evaluate their self worth? Who is teaching them how to recognize, embrace, validate and meet their needs?
Research on the psychological needs of humans has a long history. Psychologists such as William McDougall, Sigmund Freud and Henry Murray are well known for their work. Most notably, Abraham Maslow classified needs in a hierarchy, from the basic physiological variety (water, food and sex), through needs for safety, belonging and esteem to self-actualization (self-fulfilment and insight).
The organizing principle of these theories is that universal human needs exist and that, if these needs are not met through positive resourcefulness, psychological stress and distress ensues. The satisfaction of one's needs are predictive of wellbeing.
It is our hypothesis that this is the crux issue that our children struggle with. Our kids are told where to go, what to do, what to say and who to be. They are expected to sit and listen with little opportunity to individualize. At the most basic level, their needs are not being met. It is no wonder psychological stress and distress has ensued.
People are active organisms with innate tendencies toward psychological growth and development, who strive to master ongoing challenges and to integrate their experiences into a coherent sense of self. Again, we must reiterate, when this need is not met, distress ensues.
This natural human tendency does not operate automatically, while the desire is innate, it requires ongoing nurture and support from the social environment in order to function effectively.
That is, our educational system can either support or thwart the natural tendencies toward active engagement and psychological growth.
Our desire for psychological growth and development is innate. This means it is unconscious and our students do not realize. It is up to us as parents and educators to bring awareness to the desire, provide the tools to facilitate the process and then step back and hold the space for them to explore their own alchemic process.
Although we as humans have many differences, we also have many commonalities. We all share similar needs and we all deserve to have our needs met. When we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs we can see there is a significant gap in education today.
The needs like food, water, shelter and clothing are well covered for the majority and there are many effective programs to help those in need. Although food is another significant issue affecting mental health... we will save that topic for another day.
As for the second tier, due to the increase in terrorism and school shootings, we have seen a heightened focus on personal security but at what psychological cost.
But we start to struggle when it comes to meeting the next three tiers of needs; love and belonging; esteem; and self-actualization. We rely on instinct, nature and a student’s home life to take care of the love and belonging. In many cases this may be sufficient but not in all instances.
Self-esteem is something we have given more attention to in recent years but we have yet to prove our strategies have been effective. We have an even greater opportunity when it comes to respect, recognition and freedom.
And finally, the top tier seems to have been completely neglected. Self-actualization is left up to the individual to figure out for themselves. We expect our kids to be subservient to our rules and regulations, follow instruction and do as they are told for the first 18 -24 years of their life. Then when they come of age, they are pushed out of the nest and left on their own to discover who they are.
In essence we have asked these kids to deny who they are, what they want and what they need, for the entirety of the developmental years. They are left without tools or support in learning how to meet their needs. Finding fulfillment, happiness and joy is a life long process that should start in the early years.
Is it any wonder they are in distress? While some are able to pull it off, the number of kids who are battling depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder is growing. The problem is getting worse.
We call them broken when they don’t fit the mold or succeed in the assembly line of our education system. They are made to believe there is something wrong with them, so they turn on themselves. They begin to develop the self image of a fish trying to climb a tree...a square peg in a round hole.
They struggle to rationalize incongruent thoughts and feelings with the expectations of their school, parents or society as a whole? The challenges don’t subside when they leave high school either, but they have “graduated” so it is no longer the problem of the institution and they are dismissed. But the truth is, the challenges are life long.
The problems continue into their college years. Only 56 percent of US students who enter college or university graduate within six years, while only 29 percent of students who enter two-year programs complete their degrees within three years. A staggering 30 percent of college freshman drop out after their first year according to thinkprogress.org.
One would hope the issue was resolved in their college years, but the numbers would again suggest otherwise. One gallup survey says of the country’s approximately 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work. This means they feel no real connection to their jobs, so in turn they do the bare minimum.
Another 16 percent are actively disengaged, which means they resent their jobs, tend to gripe to coworkers and drag down office morale as a result. Put these numbers together and that means 67 percent of working adults in the US spend 1/3rd or their life doing something that makes them unhappy.
The warning signs are clear, our kids are crying out for our help and our entire society pays the price of the ignored red flags. It’s time we start to listen. It is time we start paying attention to what is happening and do something about it. It’s time to take action.
While there are many programs that help with these types of issues and they are making great progress, they only reach a limited number of kids and there are still too many left behind. We need a global and scalable solution.
Using a core needs model, Value & Intention Based Education, aka VIBE, is taking a unique approach to meeting students where they are. It is our goal to nurture students needs and desires - to support them in developing a self image they see as valuable and worthy based on their strengths and experiences. It is our theory that by doing so, we will combat the rise of mental health challenges, truancy, dropouts and school shootings.
At Value & Intention Based Education we believe every single individual is a critical component of the puzzle we call life. Each and every single one of us has a gift that is needed by the whole and when we do not utilize our gifts we all suffer. At a deep subconscious level we all know this but have not been provided the platform to explore it.
It is our mission at VIBE to awaken, inspire and ignite minds through the study-of-self, purpose and vocation. Our students come alive when they realize their value and eagerly set intentions for their future, allowing them to maximize their strengths in a way that contributes to society as a whole.
No matter where they are from, what mistakes they have made, or circumstances they live in, every child has a gift that the world needs. Yet at one time or another, every individual faces challenges and it our mission to teach kids how to, not only survive but thrive in the face of challenge.
While we are facing serious problems in schools across the United States, the good news is that solutions do exist. Investing in the VIBE solution is an investment in the students who are the future. They are the next generation of innovators and leaders. It's an investment in our nation’s future, for both individuals and the world as a whole.