I want to share a worrying statistic with you. In the official ONS figures for 2017 the leading cause of death for children and young people (aged 5-19) was being struck by a motor vehicle. What do you think we should do? Invest in more training about road safety at school? Look at road design to make them safer to cross? Look at car design to make improvements? Probably all of these things, and perhaps more. Clearly, we have to do something.
Let me confess something here. That statistic is not true. It’s not motor accidents that were the leading cause of death for that age group. It is something else that struck down our children – suicide. That’s right. In 2017 the leading cause of death for those aged 5-19 was suicide. So now what do we do?
Obviously we need really good support services for the young people who reach a point where they are considering such a dreadful decision. We have mental health services for children, but they are often completely overwhelmed. And why wait until that point is reached? Why not look at what we can do before then?
In terms of making a change I believe we had the foundation of this at our fingertips – Positive Education. We can teach children to flourish and live life with joy. We can teach them how to deal with difficult times, to be more resilient and to bounce back more quickly. All of these are baked by a wealth of research evidence. I don’t say this because I am a positive psychologist. I am a positive psychologist because this is true.
I am well aware it is not a universal answer. It will not prevent all of the mental issues likely to arise for some children. The causes of mental illness are too complex for that to be the case. However, it can help many, and anything we can do to both alleviate children’s suffering and at the same time reduce the burden on the health services we should do.
If this global pandemic has given us anything good, it has given us the time to think. The time to work out how to go forward in a different way. How we do this is already mapped out through the theories, models and practices of positive psychology. Now we can put them into action.