Millennials and Mental Health

What sort of society do we live in?

It’s certainly not a dystopia. When you read dystopian fiction the majority of people leaving in those worlds are oblivious to the negativities of their societies; I’m pretty sure the majority of the people living in the world today (especially in my pocket of the world) know that things are far from perfect.

Working in a high school, it’s alarming to see a dramatic increase in the numbers of adolescents with depression, anxiety and suicide ideation. In a way, I’m hoping the numbers lie. I’m hoping that things are no different to when I went through high school. I was depressed (self-diagnosed) – I often felt as though I had a black hole in the space between my stomach and chest that threatened to implode my body at any given moment. I’d planned my death a number of times and admit to jealousy when my uncle and aunty had the strength to go through with it. At times, things still get pretty dark.

^ I don’t tell people this. It feels very weird to see it on the screen in front of me.

Anyway, my hope is that modern teenagers just feel more open in revealing their anguish – that the number of my current students on Risk Management plans is no different to the number of students with mental health issues in years past, it’s just our awareness that has improved.

I have these discussions a lot. Why do our kids seem less resilient? Why does stress seem to have such a big impact on today’s youth? How do we get them through it?

I’ve blogged before that I think much of this weakness stems from society’s coddling of our current crop of children. We are unwilling to expose our kids to failure to the point it seems as if we’re afraid of what it will do to them. We don’t score in junior sports, we give out certificates of participation and we modify our education system to reward students for minimal effort.

^ this is a particular gripe for me. If a student (without extenuating circumstances) only completes 75% of a task, why should I mark them as if they’d completed it all? I wouldn’t pay a tradie if he only completed 75% of a job… and if their parents had only completed 75% of ‘the deed’ then I wouldn’t even have to ask this question. Plus, for the most part, the students failing to complete work are the sort of kids who won’t be demonstrating much knowledge or ability in their planning and drafting. (I could say heaps more on this and articulate my ideas better but that’s not the focus of this particular post.)

Ultimately, I think the biggest issue is our desire for immediacy. The rise of technology and the internet has made information, music and movies so much more accessible. Western societies have a love affair with fast food.

What do we want? Stuff!

When do we want it? Now!

Fad diets fail because people want immediate results. In a school context, system initiatives last for 5 years before they are replaced – hardly enough time to measure the outcomes they were targeting.

When I went through my ‘issues’ I knew it would take time. Everything did. We had dial-up internet and a random phone call would disconnect you from the web. In my house, we washed dishes by hand and chopped wood for the fire (no dishwashers or reverse cycle, ducted air-conditioners then). #firstworldproblems

Now, adolescents say they are depressed and they want medication thinking that mental anguish can be extinguished with a single pill. They say they are anxious and when a session with a psych doesn’t help their anxiety increases. Some of them say they are considering committing suicide and then… they’re gone.

My school is celebrating its 10th year this year and we’ve lost two young members of our school community (that I’m aware of) already.

There is no easy fix.

I do my best where I can. I tell ATAR kids that the exams are not the be-all, end-all. I tell them that I failed my TEE and still made it to where I wanted to be – one door closes… break a window and take it if you really want it. I try to make my classes engaging. I want my kids to want to come to English. The course content can be dull and difficult but I can help them through it if they’re there.

I tell my students when I don’t know something. I tell them when I’m down (and sometimes I tell them why). I let them know that I am human.

I make mistakes. I have regrets. I’ve upset a few people along the way and the pain of that guilt still lingers. BUT… I honestly believe that I am making a difference, that for some of these kids I am improving their quality of life.

Life.

It’s a precious thing (clichéd as that may be).

This world would be a better place if we could just love one another, if we could just live and laugh with each other.

Live, laugh, love.

Peace.

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From Chaos to Calm

I was doing paper mâché with my yr 8s during the double period today. At some point towards the end of session 1 I threw a bag of flour to an EA and it bounced off of her hands, onto the floor and EXPLODED everywhere.

My kids, who had been fairly good to that point, went nuts. One boy started mopping up the flour with his hair, a girl put white hand prints on her chest and another boy got flour on his hands and proceeded to slap everyone in the class. Kids started trying to slide on it. Within five minutes everybody, including me, had flour on them.

I don’t know how we got there but half an hour later I turned to another EA and remarked on how sedate the kids were. They had put all of our materials away, cleaned the hallway and were in the process of writing responses to questions I had just put up on the board.

Sometimes the stars align and you think, “you know what? Maybe I can polish a turd.”

Are we there yet?

Pretty excited that some student content has been uploaded already. There’s some brilliant stuff still to come too, especially if their drafts are anything to go by.

taughtalesson

Short answer: No.

At the moment, all I’ve done is set this blog site up ready for when students submit their posts to me on the 20th of August. Stay tuned, there will be some killer content soon.

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7 Tips for Writing Dystopian Fiction

So, you want to write a dystopian novel? I don’t blame you. It seems as though printing a book in this genre is like printing money at the moment (with the exception that it’s not illegal and people will love you for it).

As you’re planning and writing, here are some tips to consider:

  1. Think about current trends in society and then twist them and push them to their extreme.

Many classic dystopian texts riff on this premise. They take fears about population decline/growth, pollution, global warming, political/corporate control, or the subjugation of minority groups and exaggerate them to comment on ideologies the author thinks are ridiculous. As such, most dystopian texts are satirical.

Satire is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices”.

  1. Consider the sex of your protagonist.

There appears to be an easy formula to follow when choosing whether your book should have a male or female protagonist. If you’re writing for adults you are most likely writing a single book with a male protagonist. If YA fiction is your genre of choice, you will probably be looking at a trilogy starring a female lead character.

As with everything, there are exceptions to this – the most obvious is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

  1. Names are everything.

More than any other genre, dystopian texts seem to put a lot of emphasis on character names with ‘hidden’ meanings. Think about it… all of the handmaids had names that were a combination of the prefix ‘of’ and their commander’s given name (eg. Offred and Ofglen), many of the characters in Brave New World had names that referenced communist leaders (Bernard Marx, Lenina, Polly Trotsky) and the protagonist of the film Gattaca had the surname Freeman.

  1. Societal control keeps the peace.

Most dystopias have totalitarian governments that force their people to live by strict rules in order to maintain the structure and stability of their society. This generally happens through one (or more) of four methods (thanks Read, Write, Think).

  • Corporate control: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media.
  • Bureaucratic control: Society is controlled by a mindless bureaucracy through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials.
  • Technological control: Society is controlled by technology—through computers, robots, and/or scientific means.
  • Philosophical/religious control: Society is controlled by philosophical or religious ideology often enforced through a dictatorship or theocratic government.
  1. How did it get this bad?

No citizen ever says, “I’d really like a strict dictatorship to control every facet of my life”. In order for the people in power to get in that position in the first place many dystopian texts have a catastrophe – either natural or manmade – that has altered the world and its citizens and/or a gradual rise in science and technology that results in ‘perfect’ humans.

  1. Never mind, the protagonist sees through the society’s illusion of happiness.

In a number of cases, the citizens of dystopian societies are oblivious to their oppression. Ignorance is bliss and they’re in a state of soma-induced happiness. For others, the control is obvious to all but the people are too scared to act out.

Generally, it is the protagonist who identifies society’s flaws to the reader. They reveal the corruption of the leaders, the methods used to control people and often have links to the ‘old world’ (which reflects our own society) and this juxtaposition highlights what has been sacrificed to create this new society.

  1. But it’s all for naught.

Dystopian protagonists are the ultimate tragic heroes. The great majority of them are martyrs, dying for their cause. Those who don’t die often fail to have any impact. In most cases, the YA dystopian protagonist doesn’t change their society until the final book of the trilogy and even then it is at a great cost (just ask Katniss).

Happy writing!

Do you have an idea worth spreading? Share it on video through OpenTED

This is a great opportunity for educators, opinion leaders and innovative thinkers.

TED Blog

OpenTED_nominate_page_webYou have an idea. A good one – one that will make people think. But giving a TED Talk on a stage in front of an audience? Well, that doesn’t quite feel like the right way to express it.

If giving a traditional TED Talk isn’t your style, you may be excited to hear about The OpenTED Project— a new experimental initiative launching today to uncover ideas in all forms. Through OpenTED we’re erasing the lines around what is and isn’t a “TED Talk” and soliciting ideas that come in any form capturable on video. Through OpenTED, you can show us an idea as a documentary, an invention, an original animation, video poetry, song lyrics, monologues, dialogues, art, choreography — really, in any form you can imagine to communicate your idea to others.

The OpenTED Project is your personal invitation to share your idea — be it grand and…

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