Where Resiliency Matters
Professor Paula Barrett – Pathways Research Centre, ANU, University of Queensland
‘You wander from room to room hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck’
Dr Barrett talked about the stigma of mental health and how severe anxiety and depression was much more common than thought; one in every five people will experience severe anxiety at some time during their life, particularly at transitional times in life.
She argued that, unless people had life skills, anxiety can lead to depression. However, she also argued that there were proven clinical interventions that can now help although very few people actually get help.
She also spoke of the problems some students, especially able ones, have with ‘perfectionism’ and that sometimes these anxious students are very able, thoughtful, aspirational, articulate with good family support.
Her argument was that we should aim for prevention, and equipping young people with the skills through curriculum development and gave examples about skin cancer and dental health program that worked. The same is true for mental health.
She talked about ‘human capital investment’ – that, ‘the best investment every government can make is the implementation of evidence-based social and emotional skills programs in the school curriculum’ (James Heckman – Professor of Economics, Nobel Prize winner, 2000)
She argued for the positive psychology approach about resilience – ‘the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity’ and of building on strengths, not just compensating for weaknesses.
Her approach is for schools to deliver social and emotional resilience skills in an engaging way.
She spoke of risk factors and protective factors.
I was a bit worried at the lack of interesting slides; she talked a lot, without helping the audience much, but the content was strong enough to sustain it, and she spoke without notes and with good detail about some of the key factors that she had obviously researched for years.
One interesting thing was the link between physiological evidence and anxiety. One in five babies are a lot more sensitive to things like noise and light, and get distressed quickly and stay distressed for longer. She seemed to be arguing that these were the same children who were prone to anxiety although there are protective factors that are at work here too.
She then moved to the protective factors and why they were important, and how easy they were to implement in schools. ‘Attachment is the most powerful protective factor in life’ (Barrett)
Another important protective factor was ‘attention style’ or what’s sometimes called ‘Mindfulness’. This did resonate with me (it’s a bit like meditation) and it’s an approach that some schools (like mine) have begun to take up, for every student, more purposefully.
The three most important health factors she talked about were: sleep, diet and staying active every day; move for an hour every day.
Finally, she spoke about the future resiliency model she saw that all schools would be offering in twenty years time, if not now.