South Australian children are set to be immunised against mental illness – not through a jab but changing the way they think and talk.
Thinker in Residence Dr Martin Seligman’s final report, Building the State of Wellbeing, will be released on Friday and recommends SA be the first in the world to “deliberately measure and build the wellbeing of all citizens to reduce mental illness, increase resilience and enable every citizen to flourish”.
Premier Jay Weatherill has thrown his support and $800,000 behind the grandiose plan which would begin by measuring the wellbeing of school children and implementing teaching strategies akin to cognitive therapy.
“It’s a shift in thinking…rather than treating illness it’s about why do (some) people not have illness, why are they well. Looking at how successful people behave and how they think and try and encourage that pattern of thinking,” Mr Weatherill said.
“I think there are good prospects of turning this into a reality.”
Lead partners in the residency, the final to rely on government funding, were the Education Department, St Peter’s College and SA Health.
Dr Seligman, an expert in positive psychology, said psychology had focused on repairing damage, like medicine for a disease, but that positive psychology focused on the strengths and character of the individual to help build resilience to overcome challenges and promote wellbeing.
He recommended SA children be measured using five wellbeing indicators – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment – called PERMA.
He said positive psychology skills taught as a stand alone curriculum in pastoral care classes had a significant role to play while reinforcing the skills such as character strengths and meditation could be infused into current school subjects such as English, arts, language, health and religion.
“In this way we not only begin the process of immunising young people against mental illness, but through engaging with parents we also start build wellbeing in the community,” Dr Seligman said.
Other key recommendations include:
ESTABLISH a Wellbeing Institute to execute and international agenda.
DEVELOP a workforce capable of teaching wellbeing: managing measurement, teaching
positive psychology interventions and managing the evaluation of the interventions.
MEASURE wellbeing regularly, starting with children then developing a test for adults, which would in itself raise the profile of the skills.
ESTABLISH a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at an SA university.
Mr Weatherill said the government would commit $800,000 over four years toward initiatives such as rolling out a wellbeing measurement tool to 175 schools and creating community wellbeing hubs at northern suburbs schools.
The government would also work with the new SA Health and Medical Research Institute on its mind and brain research to create the Wellbeing Institute.
“I understand the scepticism but this is actually quite hard edged, this is all seriously tested and expert peer reviewed,” Mr Weatherill said.
“I think most of us have the common sense about modern existence that life is getting quicker and tougher and I think preparing our children to be more resilient in a fast changing modern world where there are lots of challenges just makes sense.”
This article first appeared on News.com on 7 November, 2013.