While student well-being continues to come under attack when framed as social-emotional learning (SEL), student needs still remain complex and fluid. Even before Covid-19, the National Education Association (NEA) identified the anxiety epidemic among high school and college students, calling it the “mental health tsunami of their generation.”
Many wonder how to adequately meet the needs of today’s children inside and outside the school environment. The good news is that initiatives are finally moving forward to counter the growing tide of mental health issues.
Federal and state initiatives
The Hechinger report references an April survey from the Institute of Educational Sciences, indicating that 70% of public schools saw an increase in mental health services sought by students. Additionally, the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a warning about a youth mental health crisis last December, stating: “Mental health issues in children, adolescents and young people adults are real and widespread. An alarming number of young people have struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression and suicidal thoughts – and the rates have been rising over the past decade.
Federal solution efforts are underway nationwide with new mental health guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and new congressional bills that encourage colleges to work with community organizations on the mental health and suicide.
At the state level, special provisions are in place for school psychiatrist hires in North Carolina and even crisis lifelines and student ID cards in Texas. However, despite all the positive initiatives, some community stakeholders find that the initiatives violate parental rights and overtax the already overworked educators. For example, a Connecticut school board made headlines by turning down a mental health clinic for a high school.
Yet outside organizations continue to move forward, building greater consensus between the wider community and schools to build student well-being and self-esteem.
The non-profit organization, Understood, believes that positive student self-esteem is essential for young people to fully access the opportunities offered by school. Failure, a popular topic in American society, has been an active topic in the education industry examining the role it plays in student development.
Who is there to provide intervention options remains a tug of war between the associated responsibilities of parents and the schools their children attend.
Dr. Denise Pope, A senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Challenge Success, believes communities want solutions. Her organization works with schools and families to develop research-based strategies that provide children with the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed.
“People are finally seeing what negative stress does to the body, what it does to the psyche, and what it does to school engagement,” says Pope. “Schools and communities know stress is a problem and want solutions.”
Vanderbilt University has a department dedicated to student health and wellness, proactively providing a “holistic” network of resources to support students on campus. The Center for Student Welfare regularly offers workshops and practices to support long-term students. The university has found success through one-on-one coaching to support the many facets of university life, academically, socially and personally.
Challenges to meaningful student health and well-being are not limited to schools in the United States. continuously examined students’ social and emotional states. A broader OECD view establishes parameters including contextual (educational policies, diversity, global issues, trends, etc.) and proximal (family, teachers, household resources) sources that impact student well-being.
With all the effort at stake, one might ask, are there any alternatives or new approaches that could add to accelerating positive results? Sometimes it takes a concerted shift in perspective to recognize that young people today can suffer from an external focus that undermines their self-esteem and their connection to an inner strength that can lead them to a higher state of fulfillment. .
Ranbir Puar, TEDx speaker, author, coach, and mother, articulates the need to create independence in young people, establishing a sense of self that can better withstand life’s uncertainties. After a successful but unfulfilling career in business development for the financial software industry, Puar felt compelled to contribute beyond the pitfalls of corporate life.
Puar, the fifth girl from a small village in India, struggled to feel or understand self-esteem in her life.
A chance encounter with famed author Wayne Dyer sparked a series of experiences that led Puar to embrace his passion for speaking on behalf of younger and more impressionable generations.
Puar’s TEDx talk has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, indicating a desire for more information and an opportunity to engage for those who have followed his work. She has channeled her efforts into teachings that have reached millions of people through writing and her work with Pinterest, gaining over 30 million impressions of her teachings.
These efforts led to the development of an app that reached number 4 in the Apple App Store upon launch, remaining in the top 10 for over a week. Applying “Today I Practice” life strategies works on the principle that we can apply realistic approaches to life stressors. She has taught in inner city schools and more affluent environments and recognizes that unrealistic outside attention is at the heart of unhappiness.
“As a child, we start out in tune with ourselves, then there is a separation from self as we drift further and further away from our true identity and nature, adjusting to what we think society expects of us,” says Puar. “The job I do is to bring you back to your authenticity, as mundane as it may seem, to be a contributor as you are meant to be. If you’re not living in reality, it’s a constant denial and mental disorders, which I believe creates mental health issues.
Puar continues, “You can have all the money in the world and still have deep turmoil, anxiety, depression and mental health issues because you’re chasing. [a false] dream.”
Against a world increasingly steeped in self-help doctrines that create failure at the beginning of manifestation goals, Puar offers a realistic and practical approach that builds on self-authenticity. “My philosophy is that when you look at reality, if your feet are on solid ground, you have a base. So let’s build from there.
Environmental stressors ignore academic thresholds and extend worry into the classrooms, buses, and homes of American students. The adaptations and additions to the curriculum, with curriculum changes and increased professional development for teachers, illustrate market recognition that young people face new and incredibly complex challenges.
A child of relative means from a small village in India represents a growing collective voice aimed at connecting with self and others to combat the pangs of self-doubt and anxiety.
Ranbir Puar’s efforts go beyond a caring mother, demonstrating the power and impact one person can have in supporting the realities of so many.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.