How Schools Could Prevent Depression

Group of children What if our education system valued depression prevention as much as academic education? What could be done at school to give children a better chance to grow up happy?

What if part of every day at school involved teaching children to find and practice their sense of gratitude and appreciation for the pleasure their senses could bring them. They could learn to focus on the pleasure of the smell of a flower, the taste of food, the feel of soft fur. It would be a kind of mindfulness training with the daily wonders of life, nature, and the senses.

What if teachers were oriented toward prioritizing children’s self-esteem? Children could go home from school each day feeling good about who they are as people and about what they can do with their skills and talents, because that’s what they learned in school. Probably there would be less bullying and children criticizing each other and themselves.

What if teachers modeled optimism, hope, and faith that life will provide good fortune and that problems will be manageable and handled with help from community. Curriculum could be oriented toward helping others, giving what one can, and supporting each other through challenges.

What if teachers helped children explore their internal worlds and understand themselves better? Teachers could teach children to listen to each other and respond to each other and to animals and plants with compassion. Children could learn to understand, talk about, and feel comfortable with their feelings. They could be taught constructive ways of expressing anger, so that they feel normal about feeling angry and learn that anger doesn’t need to be suppressed or expressed in a hurtful way.

What if joy were part of the curriculum? If joy were not taken for granted and was seen as something that needs to be prioritized like reading and arithmetic, then maybe children would have a better chance of growing up not only feeling joy, but knowing how to create and maintain it.

What if part of the curriculum were to teach about differences, valuing diversity, and the value of being inclusive? If this were not only taught but demonstrated every day, maybe it could be incorporated into each child’s cells. What if everyone grew up in an environment where large, curvy bodies were valued equally with straight, skinny bodies, old and young both had value, more than two genders were recognized and valued, and every other variation in human experience were seen with interest and delight?

I believe that if we really devoted our energy to bringing this kind of experience consistently to our children, we would prevent a huge percentage of cases of depression in children, adolescents, and adults. I don’t believe that affirmations are helpful to depressed people, but I do believe that some people need to be consciously taught happiness and joy, and many need to have their happiness at least supported and not undermined.

I believe that our happiness is undermined unnecessarily by repeated experiences of being shamed, devalued, unrecognized, misunderstood, and overworked as children, and so much of that could be prevented. In addition, many of the choices people make when they don’t get this kind of education cause more problems that contribute to depression. Without depression prevention, many teens look to sex to give them that sense of being lovable and valuable that everyone needs. Others look to drugs and alcohol to give them the confidence and the euphoria they are missing. Some take dangerous risks for a thrill that boosts their otherwise depressed mood. Others bully to feel powerful or develop eating disorders to feel in control.

Of course all of these outcomes can be caused by trauma, including shaming or otherwise abusive experiences at home or outside of school. But if depression prevention were part of everyone’s curriculum every year—integrated into everything students do, kids would develop more resilience and be better able to handle negative influences without having to let it affect them at their core.

Yes, I think we need to have institutionalized happiness training in childhood. I think much of the depression we are desperately trying to conquer would never be an issue in the first place if children got this kind of education.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT, therapist in El Cerrito, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Heath Capps

    Heath Capps

    July 16th, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    I respect this thought and I think it has value for our educational institutions. But truly, school is a snippet of a child’s day. What if this were done at home?

    Heath

  • Heath Capps

    Heath Capps

    July 16th, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    I respect this piece and believe that the thought holds value for our schools. But I also believe it starts at home. This affirming, building self-esteem, etc is a job for parents, first. Schools should augment what parents do at home, not take over the job entirely.

    A teacher could do this all day–and then have his/her work ripped to pieces if parent(s) were not following through.

    Don’t mean to come across as negative, it’s just how I see things.

  • Jarmayne

    Jarmayne

    July 16th, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    I DO think that a lot of really good teachers are open to having this sort of environment at school. I think that the ones who care the most for their students and for doing a good job automatically take all of these things into consideration and create a learning environment that is open and giving to the student. They do not want to hold them back and they like to see that the kids they are nurturing are benefitting from being a part of this sort of environment.
    But they are always facing challenges like having to meet certain testing standards and unrealistic expectations that have nothing to do with the holistic health of the child but more about the funds they will receive if they hit certain scores. I want our children to do well in school too, and in the ideal world all of these things would go hand in hand. But teachers today feel so overwhelmed as it is. How are they ever supposed to do all of the things that we want them to do and expect to have to give or do nothing to or for them in return?

  • Rosie

    Rosie

    July 16th, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    As a teacher who uses mindfulness in my classroom I can honestly say that first of all, it DOES make a difference. Secondly, it does not interfere with the curriculum, it enhances it. It is important that the teacher truly believes in the effect of mindfulness and that they themselves also practice it. Just as in any part of the curriculum, you have to know the subject before you can teach it. Many of my students have gone home and taught this to their parents and siblings. Teaching my 8yr. olds how to pause and “respond rather than react” to a situation has made a difference in all of our lives. And in regard to testing, mindfulness teaches anyone how to focus on the task at hand, instead of having many thoughts getting in the way. Better focus = better learning.

  • patrick b

    patrick b

    July 16th, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Why are we always pushing things off to others that in fact we should be doing more of ourselves?

  • Cynthia Lubow, MFT

    Cynthia Lubow, MFT

    July 16th, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    Thanks for the great comments! I agree in the best of worlds this would come from home, but the reality is that it often doesn’t. I think it’s more practical to start at school, where professional teachers can be trained to teach this way. Getting parents trained is much harder. That said, it’s also true that teachers are under ridiculous pressure already. Our priorities would have to change for this to work. It is also true that kids could get the best of anti-depression training at school and go home to abuse and trauma. However, we know that people who survive abuse the best are those who have someone in their lives who loves them unconditionally. Even having some of this at school would help protect them from emotional scars from home. I do know there are schools that are already doing this, and I applaud them! This tells us it can be done, and we just need to spread the method–not reinvent the wheel–in order for this to be a real possibility. Thank you Rosie, for giving us hope!

  • Patrick

    Patrick

    July 17th, 2012 at 12:31 AM

    Sounds like a great plan that has far fetching effects. It will not only inculcate these pod qualities in the Holden but it will also make the world a better place to live in. These kids grow into adults and imagine what the environment will be if the world is filled with people who grew up with such teachings. It would be wonderful.

    But to be able to teach all these values to our kids we must first get rid of the rot inside us, the corruption and the hatred in us. We need to learn to be a happy and cooperative people first to be able to teach the same to our kids.

  • cameron

    cameron

    July 17th, 2012 at 3:12 AM

    I agree with Heath. But it would be much better if this were practiced both at school and at home. If both the teachers and parents start doing this kids will grow up in a much better and more welcoming environment and I’m sure so many of the problems that plague society today would be gone.

    How can we as parents do this? Any cues from the author please?

  • Carson

    Carson

    July 17th, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    But where does the money come from Cynthia?

    Schools amd teachers are already pushed to the limit financially as it is. Where do we find more to do even more than what they have already been charged to do?

    It has to come from somewhere.

  • Rosie

    Rosie

    July 17th, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    It comes from within Carson. Yes, it costs money to implement “programs” into schools. But if just one teacher in a school, as in my case, has the interest to teach this to their class, it can spread to others. I have 36 3rd graders. Did all of them learn enough in a year to carry mindfulness inside them for a lifetime? Probably not. But if I reached even 3 of them, then I have made a difference in 3 of them! And they can go on to make a difference in others. It doesn’t take any extra time to remember to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and others. And Patrick, you are right. In order to teach these values to kids, we have to have them ourselves. There is so much information out there in books, on the internet, conferences………… There really is no excuse for not teaching this to our children. The biggest obstacle is ourselves. We have to believe in it.

  • Carson

    Carson

    July 17th, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    Rosie- yes you are very optimistic, and yes we need more teachers like you. But the reality is that many of the people who go into the teaching profession do not have half the care about their students as you do. Most of them go into the job seeking tenure and summers off. So while I would love to believe that the schools and teachers can make it happen, I really even begin to wonder is that really what they are all about. Teach my kids the basics, and everything else should be taught and reinforced at home. For the kids who don’t have that at home, of course that’s sad and you have to hope for the best. But really, our kids are falloing so far behind globally, is this what we should be worrying about in the public school system?

  • Rosie

    Rosie

    July 17th, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    Carson………How many teachers do you know? While every occupation has its dead weight, I do not know even one person who goes into teaching for the tenure and summers off. I will spare you my thoughts on that comment, other than the fact that I find it insulting. I guess my 36 years in the teaching profession isn’t long enough to have met the teachers you know. I agree with you that US students are falling behind. Maybe the government should get out of the classrooms and let the teachers teach. But the original article here was not about academics. It was about teaching children how to be aware of their feelings and help them understand that they can make choices in their behavior and finding value in themselves. It doesn’t matter how “smart” a person is if they have no kindness or compassion in their lives. This is not being optimistic, it is being real.

  • Teresa

    Teresa

    April 14th, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Rose,

    I am thankful for teachers and human beings like you. Many blessings to you!

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