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Transforming Mental Health Support - The Promise of Positive Education

Last week Theresa May the UK Prime Minister talked at the Charity Commission of wanting "to employ the power of Government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society".

She cited the latest rising figures in mental health disorders, distress and resulting self harm (and medication) amongst both adults and young people and the extraordinary economic and social cost to the country in terms of £billions in related treatment costs and lost productivity, let alone lost hope and lost opportunity.

Sadly these figures are not unique to the UK and replicated in many other parts of the world.

It was encouraging that the Prime Minister talked specifically about the need for a greater emphasis on early intervention for children and young people to include more mental health training for school staff and a thorough review of mental health services by the Care Quality Commission with the aim of transforming services in schools, universities and for families as well.

All good.. but where was the mention of Positive Education?

Positive Education is an evidence-based approach to enhancing academic achievement, well-being & character development that not only seeks to alleviate and prevent mental health challenges, but serves to support children and young people, their teachers and their parents to build the resilience and mental toughness they need to be the best they can be.

Positive Education is the application of well-being science to create flourishing school communities. In the fields of Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology there has been increasing empirical research and applied good practice taking place all around the world, much of it in education contexts. This research, backed up by the work of leading economists such as Lord Richard Layard, demonstrates that an equal focus in schools on academic achievement, enhancing well-being and character development is more likely to predict flourishing and optimal functioning across the lifespan than simply a focus on academic achievement and future income generation.

This is surely borne out by the increasing levels of dissatisfaction with life and rising stress and depression being experienced by hundreds of millions of well-educated and well-paid adults in the world, not just here in the UK and other Western countries but in emerging economies like China.

In July 2016 I was fortunate to attend and present at the world's first Global Festival of Positive Education in Dallas attended by 850 researchers and practitioners from over 30 countries. Convened by International Positive Education Network (IPEN) this ground-breaking conference showcased hundreds of examples across schools, universities and community education organisations where the application of Positive Psychology is transforming the attitudes, performance, achievement and ultimately well-being and mental health of leaders, teachers, students and parents.

Indeed speaking in Dallas, Professor Martin Seligman, credited with founding the Positive Psychology movement, concurred with Theresa May that we have this historic, 'once in a civilisation' opportunity to change the game in education and create a greater focus in our schools and universities on what it really means to flourish - to feel good and function well. We now have the tools to equip young people and the adults in their lives to embrace challenge, change and opportunity and to be able to sustain well-being and mental toughness despite life's and work's inevitable setbacks and adversities.

Research is showing that the PERMAH model of flourishing can act as a strong foundation to build upon and introduce interventions and weave well-being and character development into the curriculum and actually embed them into the culture of schools themselves. These interventions don't just act to tackle distress and languishing but serve to foster and sustain flourishing within the school community and beyond.

P = Positive Emotions - cultivating inspiration, gratitude, hope, serenity, curiosity, pride and learning how to regulate negative emotions through mindfulness ; E = Engagement - discovering, igniting strengths, creating flow and understanding character; R = Relationships - learning how to build high quality connections and be present with people; M = Meaning & Purpose in Life - exploring values, drivers and how to make a contribution to the community and society as a whole; A = Accomplishment - learning how to set, strive towards and achieving intrinsic goals ; H = Health - taking account of diet, exercise and sleep when it comes to well-being and performance.

In a book chapter I co-authored with Dr. Suzy Green 'The application of Positive Psychology and Coaching in Schools' (Coaching in Professional Contexts - Sage) we argue that the application of coaching psychology through evidence-based coaching programs alongside positive psychology interventions is important for facilitating lasting change and positive goal striving amongst adults and students. For the latest school-based coaching study findings please see here.

Suzy and I also make the point that today's school and university students are the workers and professionals of tomorrow. They need to be equipped better to embrace the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous future we all appear to be facing.

As Theresa May pointed out the existing adult population is facing huge mental health challenges and measures are also being introduced to address this in workplaces. But she also talked of what needs to be done to prevent mental health problems in the future. I believe that the answer can be found in Positive Education and Coaching.

I hope that the Government and the Care Quality Commission will take note of the work that is already taking place and engage with and explore this exciting, hopeful and evidence-based Positive Education movement.

The foundations for Positive Education and flourishing in our communities are in place. We should build on what we know is working well. The promise is there to be realised.

Clive Leach M.Org. Coaching, is an evidence-based coach working widely in the business, government and education sectors. He is an IPEN Global Representative and is currently designing and delivering Positive Education Programs with schools in Asia, Europe and the UK. He is also a Visiting Lecturer teaching on the world's first Msc Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology (MAPPCP) at the University of East London.

Clive is accredited in the MTQ48 Mental Toughness Assessment and is a Realise2 Strengths Practitioner.

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