The importance of well-being in young people.

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The importance of well-being in young people

A young personʼs overall wellbeing well-being is a vital factor in their ability to reach their full potential.

Well-being can be hard to define.  It is not just the absence of disease or illness but includes a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and social health factors.

The World Health Organisation describes wellbeing as “more than the absence of an illness”, it is a “resource for healthy living” and a “positive state of health”, that enables us to function well: psychologically, physically, emotionally, and socially.

Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Center, identifies five important building blocks necessary for wellbeing well-being and happiness in people of all ages.

1. Positive Emotions: feeling positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, interest, and hope

2. Engagement: being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills but still challenge you

3. Relationships: having positive relationships

4. Meaning: belonging to and serving something bigger than yourself

5. Accomplishment: pursuing success, winning achievement, and mastery.

In a simplified definition, he described well-being as “feeling good” and “doing good”.

The Black Dog Instituteʼs Director of Research, Professor Jennie Hudson said, “Global research tells us that over 75% of mental health issues develop before the age of 25, and these can have lifelong consequences.”

The Victorian Health Department reports that at some point, 14% of Australian children and young people aged 4–17 years are affected by mental illness and this rises to 26% for those aged 16–24. Victorian Health Department

A joint report by Mission Australia and Black Dog Institute found that these rates have increased over time. In 2012, one in five young Australians reported that they have experienced psychological distress. That number has jumped to one in four as of 2020.

It also found that young people who identified as female, non-binary, living with disability, or as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander were at higher risk.

So why are young people vulnerable to poor mental health and wellbeing?

It is difficult to determine the factors that are causing these rising figures and a lot more investigation needs to occur.

Mission Australia states that the top issues of concern for young Australians who experience psychological distress were their ability to cope with stress, mental health, and body image (Mission Australia).

Data from the 2021 Youth Health Survey which included responses from over 21, 000 young people identified the top 3 barriers to achieving their study or work-related goals were “Mental Health” at 51.5%, “Academic Ability” at 42.1%, and “COVID-19” at 32.2%.

Gender-diverse young people identified their top 3 study and work-related barriers as being “Mental Health” – 83.2% compared to 51.5%,

“Discrimination” – 29.4% compared with 6.9%, “Lack of Family Support” – 21.9% compared with 9.8% (view more details of the Mission Australia 2021 Youth Survey Summary Report here).

Young people are in a period of transition. As such, there are many additional challenges and changes they need to navigate.

These include:

• Negotiating new relationships and boundaries with their parents.

• Learning to form positive relationships with their peers.

• Forming their identity and values.

• Adapting to a changing body, sexual identity, and self-image.

• Developing abstract thinking and problem-solving skills.

• Making study and work decisions.

• Increasing roles and responsibilities at school and in life.

For many, this time is exciting and filled with positive experiences and healthy stresses that can be managed. For others, it can be difficult and challenging if they are not appropriately supported.

How can schools support young people with their overall well-being?

Early intervention by governments, NGO’s, schools, families, businesses, and others are imperative to help reduce the prevalence of mental ill-health among young people in Australia.

In the past, school interventions have typically focused on attempting to help students who present with immediate problems (Tait & Entwistle, 1996), or offer study skills training for students struggling academically (Zimmerman, Bonner & Kovach, 1996).

There is now a growing commitment to develop whole-school and targeted interventions that are proven to build high school studentsʼ resilience and well-being, rather than merely treating symptoms of dysfunction when they occur.

The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework lays out a vision where all Australian schools will be learning communities that promote student well-being, safety, and positive relationships so that students can reach their full potential.

The Framework recommends that all students and their families should be supported through a systemic whole-school approach to well-being, that also offers appropriate early intervention. This includes the use of evidence-informed, strengths-based approaches so students can become active participants in their own learning and well-being.

School should be a place where they can learn social and emotional skills, and develop strategies to “enhance well-being, promote safety, and counter violence, bullying, and abuse.”Our modules and training tools at Coaching Young People for Success can aid schools by giving young people the tools they need to improve their well-being.

Additionally, the Victorian government has recently invested $217.8 million over four years to support student mental health and well-being and an ongoing $86.9 million ongoing to create a “Schools Mental Health” menu.

Despite the many challenges that lie ahead, and all the pressures schools face, it is very encouraging to see the growing commitment from state education departments to provide the additional support, training, and the resources schools need to be able to improve the well-being outcomes of their students, parents, and staff.

Robyn Chellew

Director, Life Business Consultancy

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