"Youth experimenting with new things as a behavioural pattern has not changed since the 1960s. What they are experimenting with is the thing that has changed."
- Jane Burns
My attendance at EduTECH 2017 is through a media pass provided by the organisers.
After the morning break, we resumed our conversation around mental health and wellbeing, chatting about the societal from non-technology driven to highly technology-driven, with lives now revolving around social calendars managed on FaceBook ro Google, and the need to respond to social media immediately, the keyboard warrior attitude, and the proliferation of misinformation and poor research by the ability to very simply share it. There is potential for incredible levels of support for those who need it but do not have easy access to it for one reason or another, however, there is also the potential for increased levels of bullying; because rather than simply ocurring in the playground or on the bus to and from school it can continue all day and through the night due to social media access.
That is not the only downside to the technology-driven society. Increased access to technology has resulted in poor sleep hygiene, with young people going to bed later, and sleeping poorly as a result of having their phone in their hand or under the pillow. It is setting up an addiction that is affecting our students and changing the way they get their dopamine highs. When stressed, rather than turning to alcohol, there are those who now turn to their phone and the internet.
The discussion turned to the classroom and the point was made that if a student has no formal diagnosis, then no additional fudning for support for that student is available. The process to get that diagnosis can be long and arduous for the family and the papework to then submit the details to get the support is also a long and frustrating process. Community links can help in this area. One person related about inviting a mental health support organisation, Headspace, into their school as students were not going out to the organisation. The have someone in the school on a regular basis and that person works with self-referred students and is able to make the link back to home where appropriate. It means that even if the parents are proving to be a roadblock and are taking te attitude that there isnothign wrong with their child, the child can self-refer and get the help they need.
The use of technology came up and the statistic is that 95% of Australian youth (16-24) are online everyday for two to four hours a day, and about twenty percent of those are online for five or more hours a day. It is not necessarily the amount of technology use, screentime if you will, that is an issue. The purpose of the screentime is a highly contextual issue.
Technology can provide hope to families struggling to deal with disability in the household. A student who cannot communicate verbally has the option of communicating through technology such as a tablet which they can type into and communicate with. It also allows families separated by distance to stay in touch. My wife and I regularly FaceTime my parents who live fours away so that they can see their granddaughter and she can hear their voices and see their faces. At nine months old, this means that when we do get to see them in person, they are not complete strangers. There is so many rich and meaningful uses of technology that the question of how much is too much is far deeper and more complex than simply the amount of time spent using technology.
One of the main challenges in schoolmental health is help seeking, and engagement with mental health and this is where the right care at the right time attitude to care comes in and then the challenge is the workforce. There are not enough people with expertise and training in dealing with mental health issues on schools.
It was at this point that we were all evacuated from the building. There was the automated announcement over the PA and we all casually filed outside, congregating about two or three meters outside the main door of the ground floow as it was raining. It is interesting that despite all being educators and having, naturally, been through many evacuation drills in at schools, there was absolutely no urgency or hurry at all. I saw many people casually picking up all of their belongings and slowly making their way out and down the escalators. The workers who were putting up signage of maps of the EduTECH conference and where different rooms were did not even go that far; they kept working. We were only outside for about ten minutes and then it was back in with no explanation of what had happened. An interesting interlude to the morning.
Jane drew upon a Malcom Turnbull quote from April 2016 (which I have not been able to find online) which was that the most important resource in Australia is not underground but inside the heads of our people. This is an interesting perspective given the attitude that we see in the media from our policiticans around mineral resources versus education and the legislation that is enacted.
The discussion turned to a more practical line of thought, and we were asked to brainstorm various tools and strategies that we already knew of to support mental health, which were then shared around the room. The VIA Character Strengths survey came up a few times. This is apparently a tool for self-assessment of character traits. There were a few people who indicated that their school runs a subject called health, which is separate from PDHPE, wherein students receive extra time for physical movement. This is important as there is a body of research that find a link between physical activity and mental health (such as here, here, and here). I also remember a TV ad from (I think) the early 1990s which had a tagline along the lines of kids who play sport do better in school and the clip was of a female gymnast running towards camera, jumping off a trampoline, doing a twist or something and then landing (now in her school uniform) in her chair in class with a huge smile on her face.
We then heard about a tool called High Res which is aimed at veterans, however, is based on cognitive behaviour therapy and so could be adaped for students' use.
The next resource we heard about was Secret Agent Society which is aimed at primary school students. It was originally developed to teach students with social and emotional difficulties how to recognise emotions in themselves and others, express their feelings in appropriate ways along with a range of other social skills. Next, we heard about Seven Habits of Mind and The Brave Program. The Brave program is not one that I had heard of before, however, it is an online tool that allows students to get support and some strategies for dealing with anxiety, based on cognitive behaviour therapy. ReachOut (@Reachout_Aus) is a highly useful website with a range of tools that can help students manage and understand mental health issues.
One strategy that was discussed to increase awareness and understanding of tools for managing mental health was to turn it into a design task. Ask students to analyse mental health websites and what works well, what does not work well on that website. It turns it into a design task, however, as part of that, they will take in content and tools that are listed as part of the analysis process.
Jane then quoted Jackie Crowe who said that the bar is set too low for what is acceptable. There is not an expectation of high quality care, despite the crying need for it.
This lack of available support has driven the development of apps that are available to help fill in the gap. The app scene was what we focused on next and the first app discussed was the Recharge Sleep app which offers a six week program to help bring your sleep hygiene back to healthy standards. ReachOut Breath App focuses on the physiological impacts of stress and offers simple practical exercises to manage those signs and bring them back to healthy levels and slowly bring your stress back to manegable levels. Music eScape is hunged on the fact that there is no stigma around music as therapy whatsoever. It creates a mood map of your music library based upon the beat cadence and will help you to change your mood through physiological and psychological responses to music. The Check In App by Beyond Blue was developed to help provide building blocks for how you can start a mental health conversation with a friend and it provides links to professional support.
Break Up Shake Up is an app designed to help young people move on after a relationship break up. As a teenager, a relationship ending is the end of the world. This helps by providing strategies to help let go and move on. ReachOut also offers The Toolbox; a site that helps you to determine your mental health goals and then suggests a range of apps for you to select from that are appropriate to achieving those goals.
The morning started our rather depressing, talking about the statistics around youth mental health, which are quite horrific, but this session I feel was quite positive and gave us some practical tools that we can use and suggest for students that we know are dealing with mental health issues in our own lives.
We moved out to lunch at this pont, so I will end this article here. Thank you for reading and if you have any of the storify's or articles from this EduTECH 2017 series, you can find those here. Don't forget that if you or a loved on need support there are lots of options such as Beyond Blue, LifeLine, Black Dog Institute, Mind Blank, and Headspace, among many others. This is an important conversation that we need to have as a society. Engage in the online conversation through twitter, Jane is @JaneBurns and there are a range of hashtags on Twitter such as #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthawareness and many others.