April 7 marked the 75th World Health Day with the motto Health For All! The day, announced by the World Health Organization, is an opportunity to reflect on the progress made over the years and on the current mental health crisis, especially among adolescents.
The Patrizio Paoletti Foundation, with the advantage of over twenty years of neuro-psycho-pedagogical and didactic research, helps to raise awareness by highlighting how focussing on the educational process is the best prevention strategy for mental well-being.
In the aftermath of the Covid 19 pandemic, while science is still assessing the effects of such a complex experience on our minds, the outbreak of a major world conflict together with the enormous socio-economic and climate challenges have generated a state of planetary psychological crisis
According to the World Health Organization, mental disorders have increased exponentially:
Especially amongs adolescents, cases of mental disorders have increased, with a +40% of self-harm phenomenon, isolation, school drop-out and school difficulties:
Furthermore, according to the AXA Mind Health Report 2023, a survey conducted by Ipsos and carried out on a sample of more than 30,00 people in 16 countries worldwide, Italy is in last place in terms of mental well-being in Europe. On the other hand, the same report highlights how the propensity to seek care and talk about mental health is growing in parallel, overcoming the social stigma surrounding this issue. According to the report, women are at higher risk, because of gender inequality, together with adolescents.
Finally, the social cost of mental health , in terms of depression, school drop-out, reduced employment and productivity, is estimated at around 4% of the global GDP.
The state of emergency pushes us to question more deeply what mental health really is and how to enhance it through protective factors identified by scientific research.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines mental health as a fundamental human right. It is considered the basis for personal, community and socio-economic development.
Mental health does not simply refer to the absence of mental disorder, there is a complex continuum, which is experienced differently from person to person, with varying degrees of well-being and difficulty and potentially very different outcomes.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of psychological well-being characterized by the expression of particular abilities: cope with the stresses of life, make one’s skills productive, learn and work profitably, contribute to one’s community. Consequently, mental health underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships, and ultimately shape the world we live in.
The extraordinary capabilities associated with mental health are the product of our extremely complex brain structure. Indeed, the very complexity of our brain makes it full of potential, but also exposes it to potential dysfunctions. Our complexity makes it necessary to educate ourselves to be able to manage it in the best possible way.
According the the World Health Organization: education is the most important modifiable social determinant of health.
Not only does a quality education offer a better chance of good health in general, extending life expectancy by an average of 4 years, but also provides a solid basis for what are the main protective factors of mental well-being: healthy habits, supportive social connections, access to a good job, the ability to handle the challenges that life presents.
Such mental health protective factors are nourished by inner competencies and also outer abilities, which can be learned and enhanced through an effective educational process: self-awareness, self-efficacy, life-long learning and problem-solving ability, or in other words the fundamental competencies of resilience.
Indeed the current crises are showing us how little resilient we are to shocks, i.e. unprepared to cope with the extremely rapid transformations affecting our life on the planet. To achieve a sustainable future, we need to find not only outward solutions, but focus even more on our inner world. We won’t find long-term, truly sustainable energetic solutions, unless we address the energetic sustainability of the human being.
From the point of view of physiological structure, the potential of our brain is almost unlimited, but this potential is so vast precisely because it is the expression of a complex machine, which can function in many ways and even be harmful to itself.
The Pedagogy for the Third Millennium method, developed by Patrizio Paoletti and his team, based on neuro-psycho-pedagogical research, was in fact developed to respond to the challenges that our time poses to educational systems. In Pedagogy for the Third Millennium the human being is considered in a global sense. A complete and sustainable well-being can only be achieved if we take our fundamental components into account, the physical, emotional, rational and highest aspirational dimensions. These different factors need to be considered in order to develop a lifestyle that promotes mental well-being and in which resilience is trained and enhanced. In fact, all the parts that we are made up of are deeply interconnected, and it is necessary to consider them in their reciprocal interactions. From childhood, individuals need to learn to relate to the functioning of their bodies, discovering the importance of movement for cognitive processes, for example. But also learn to know the emotional dimension with its intelligence and the effective use of cognitive resources. Ultimately, the ability to envision one’s future, based on one’s innermost values, constitutes an invaluable orientation factor for our entire life.
Indeed, in a recent scientific publication by an interdisciplinary team of researchers in the areas of developmental psychology, neuroscience, motor development, sports science and mental health, including Tal D. Ben-Soussan director of RINED, the topic under discussion was the need for holistic education as a preventive factor for psychological well-being. The article addresses the lack of understanding the interconnectedness of many critical development aspects and how to intentionally connect these factors so as to promote a more holistic approach. The need for a more holistic and inclusive approach to child and adolescent development in order to promote long-term health and well-being is increasingly evident, according to the article. The ideas outlined in the comprehensive publication aim to address the need to transcend disciplinary boundaries and outline synergistic links between multiple research areas that support holistic development and lifelong health and well-being. In the publication a conceptual framework is proposed that comprehensively addresses the integration of the physical, cognitive, psychological, social and emotional domains of child and adolescent development, considering: a) the critical nature of a relational systemic approach to human development, b) a contemporary perspective on the links between cognitive, social, emotional, psychological and physical development, c) the critical importance of holistic development that influences long-term mental health trajectories and begins in early childhood, and d) a pragmatic approach to the promotion of holistic development using a pedagogical approach called MTSS multi-tiered system of support.
According to Pedagogy for the Third Millennium, this holistic approach to education as a tool for the protection and development of mental well-being lacks a crucial element to be made fully effective: the ability to envision a sustainable future.
There is much data on the current mental well-being crisis among adolescents that indicates that maybe the absolutely most debilitating element is the difficulty to imagine a better future. Eco-Anxiety, a term used in research to describe the generalised feeling of frustration of the new generations in the face of the climate crisis, is well summarized by this quote: “when the future of all living beings is at stake it is difficult not to be depressed”.
These are the words of a participant in a survey of 10,000 young people across 10 countries. More than 50 per cent of the participants reported feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, helplessness and guilt in relation to the ongoing climate crisis. 73% of 16-24 year olds in the UK stated that the climate crisis is having a negative effect on their mental health, in line with trends expressed by teenagers worldwide.
Further research conducted right after the Covid 19 pandemic shows how the difficulty to envision a future is correlated with a decrease in the production of meaning , especially amongst University students, young people who are on the treshold of adult life.
A post Covid 19 research conducted on 3,100 Univsersity students showed that the active search for a vision of the future correlates with greater attribution of meaning to one’s life, which leads to being more enriched by each experience.
On the other hand, they found that the lack of vision of a future correlates with phenomenon of violent radicalization.
Neuroscientific research confirms the importance of envisioning as a competency. Envisioning the future, in fact, is an activity that the brain exercises in a way that is different to simple daydreaming. When we visualise a future with the intention of achieving it, areas are activated that are related to: the self-regulation of emotions, the intentional use of memories, and the evaluation of self-knowledge.
Learning how to envision the future is an enlivening factor for all the competencies making up psychological well-being, which allow us not only to be well, but also to move towards an even better state. Mental well-being, in fact, today more than ever, cannot be considered in a static sense, but always dynamically, as adaptation and improvement. Acquiring this exceptional skill of our mind, to consciously envision, can make all the difference to the lives of the younger, as well as the older generations.
The development of the ability to envision is part of the perspective of Life Skills education, psychosocial skills in the personal, social, interpersonal, cognitive and affective area of the individual, which the World Health Organisation’s Department of Mental Health has confirmed as preferred techniques for the promotion of Health Education in the school environment.
The importance of socio-affective education lies in its ability not to focus on a specific prevention theme – as communicated by the Italian National Health Service – but on a methodology aimed at increasing dialogue and communication, listening and effective relationship skills in those who are growing up. Socio-affective education involves strategies and activities that can also be brought into the school world at a very early stage.
This is why the Patrizio Paoletti Foundation has been involved in Life Skill training programmes for years such as the webinar series dedicated to families Adolescence Emergency, AIS – Assisi International School school where the Montessori Method and Pedagogy for the Third Millennium are applied, and also Envision the Future, a programme that was initially created to support the people affected by the earthquake in central Italy in 2016 and which has had such a positive impact that it has grown steadily, being introduced to secondary schools throughout Italy. Furthermore, the Foundation actively promotes these competencies on the European level by participating in projects such as EQ Students – Emotional Intelligence, the mind that feels, which aims at increasing EQ awareness in schools and on the labor market.