THE BLOG
09/01/2012 05:02 GMT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 GMT

Could Meaningful Educational Reform Reduce Levels of Depression?

According to the World Health Organisation, the number one cause of illness in 2030 will be Depression. By the time today's Year 7 students are in their mid-thirties, they will face a greater health risk from depression than from cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation, the number one cause of illness in 2030 will be Depression. By the time today's Year 7 students are in their mid-thirties, they will face a greater health risk from depression than from cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer.

Schools have long understood their responsibilities with regard to their students' health, with

mandatory Physical Education and Personal, Health, and Social Education (PHSE) classes.

In fact, Ofsted are very happy with the delivery of PSHE in particular, with the teaching of it being assessed as good or outstanding in over three-quarters of UK schools.

So it begs the question. Why are rates of depression continuing to climb?

Depression is a complex condition and there is no single solution, however just as education is often seen as a way out of poverty, a good education could go a long way to providing protection against depression.

How many of us know people who don't particularly enjoy what they do for a living? They may be very good at what they do; but they spend their week waiting for the weekend, and the only reward comes in the form of a pay cheque.

Why do we accept this?

Common sense tells us that being stuck in a job you don't enjoy must have an impact on an

individual's wellbeing. This in turn must be contributing to the rise in rates of depression.

One of the main reasons people end up in such jobs is the education system, which is more

interested on what you can do, rather than who you are.

From a very early age students are identified by what they can or cannot do within the narrow band of disciplines offered at school. Students are put through their paces via rigorous standardised tests, and it becomes apparent which students are considered academically Gifted and/or Talented and who are sporty or artistic etc. Most of your choices in education are then made based on these apparent skills. Little attention is paid to where your interests lie or the pursuit of new ones. The advent of school league tables means now more than ever, kids are advised to place academic success ahead of intrinsic interest or passion.

However, youth unemployment is now at record levels, with 1.2 million British 16-24 year olds out of work including many university graduates. Students are leaving school or university to find the skills and knowledge they have developed for most of their life are no longer in demand. And this is to ignore the kids who leave school with no idea of what they're good at or passionate about. The GFC, the rise of Asia as a market force and technological advances mean that now more than ever, schools need to shift their focus.

As it is, only about 33% of students gain entry to university which prompted Edward de Bono, author of The Six Thinking Hats to say, "The apparent purpose of education is to convince two thirds of the population they really are stupid." And given that a university degree no longer guarantees the graduate a career, why do we still reinforce the same hierarchy of school subjects that the universities of the Industrial Revolution deemed most worthwhile? Why do many still consider a mathematics student smarter than an aspiring painter?

What if schools were places where kids could learn first and foremost about themselves? Learn

what kind of person they are; what character traits they have? What if schools were places that

encouraged students to learn from their mistakes as opposed to avoiding them at all costs?

What if schools were places where young people were empowered to find their passion and use

their talents, strengths, energy or idealism to make a positive change in the life of someone else, the wider community or society in general?

Dr Martin Seligman, former Chair of the American Psychological Society, and widely regarded as the modern-day founder of Positive Psychology is one of many who believe such a change would help young people create meaning and engagement in their lives and as such, individuals can "both increase happiness and alleviate symptoms of depression."

Educational leaders will have you believe that schools do address these concepts through their

extra-curricular offerings. My point is; these ideals should not be an extra.

As long as these outcomes remain in the realm of extra-curricular activities, the access to and quality of such opportunities will vary significantly from school to school, and from year to year.

These concepts need to be at the core of the National Curriculum.

However, as is the case with climate change, policy reform is tied to political votes and policy makers lack genuine expertise in the area over which they preside. As a result any so-called reform will be largely tokenistic and rooted firmly in ideals of the past.

By the time our leaders realise this, it may be too late for too many.

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