I’ve noticed that modern life contains many paradoxes. The world has become a village but families live further apart, we have more convenience and less time, more food and less health, more information and less wisdom.
According to Jean Twenge in her book iGen, young people today are more educated but less happy than their parents’ generation.
Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay says that the world is both crowded and lonely. In his 2014 lecture titled The Art of Belonging, Mackay points out “the largest… and the fastest growing household type in Australia…is the single-person household, now accounting for about 27 per cent of all households” (2014, p.5).
For me, each of these paradoxes is a thin wisp of smoke curling up from the smoldering complexity of our modern lives. A sign of unresolved friction, heat that needs to be cooled.
Early in my teaching career I became aware that the students in my care were suffering from increasing struggles with their mental health. Small embers of despair seemed to be flickering beneath the surface for many of them. More recently this trend has only intensified. In Australia where I live and work, the National Australia Bank funds a broadscale youth survey on wellbeing. In 2017 the NAB study found that “globalisation, family breakdown and cyber bullying” were key contributors to the low hum anxiety that has become commonplace for teens (Oster, Pearson, De Iure, McDonald & Wu. 2017, p.1). Elevated physiological and environmental risk, combined with resistance to help seeking, make adolescents and young adults particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of mental health disorders. Suicide is now the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15-44 (ABS, 2018).
As an educator I once again seemed to be facing a paradox. I was teaching hundreds of hours of curriculum in order to facilitate successful future lives for young people, whilst watching them struggle with their mental health right now. Surely there had to be a way forward.
What if we more explicitly taught young people to understand and manage their own mental health? What if we equipped them with evidence based strategies from positive psychology? What if we combined it into a long term multimodal wellbeing program that also linked into the school’s existing camps and outdoor education program?
Well, that’s what we did.
I got in touch with Dr Peter Beamish from Avondale University College and together we conceptualised The Invictus Wellbeing Program. Since its inception in 2014, Invictus has grown to reach thousands of participants across Australia, New Zealand and the EU. We are supported by Deakin University, endorsed by Beyond Blue and sponsored by Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing. Together with our partners we are working to re-prioritise wellbeing as the foundation for a relationally connected world that values craft over convenience, wisdom over knowledge and cooperation over competition.
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