Turning Depression Into an Indomitable Spirit

The Koreans have the “indomitable  spirit”  as their fifth tenet of Tae Kwan Do.  Young students learning martial arts learn to confront their weaknesses and turn them into areas of strength.   Like the African word “kente” meaning that which cannot be broken, a strong spirit has never been more needed than it is today.   Both terms describe an inner strength that all students can learn—and need to learn—to tackle tough challenges for themselves and others and to make the world a better place.

Over the last ten years, the number of students with severe mental illness has increased more than 10 percentage points, according to the American Psychological Association. In a recent NPR story, “Depression On The Rise In College Students,” health experts said a large part of this increase is due to more effective counseling being implemented in younger school-age students. By the time these students are getting to college, they have already been diagnosed and are seeking help from the college to manage their learning disabilities or emotional problems. But are we over-diagnosing students with depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities? Is the rising number of prescribed students due in part to increased availability of problem-solving pills? While there are certainly situations that require medication, are there still many others where meds are a default used instead of working through emotional problems with the same perseverance required to succeed at math?

In Ken Robinson’s TED lecture, “Changing Education Paradigms,” he calls the increase in students getting diagnosed with ADHD a “fictitious epidemic.” Are students getting prescribed to focus or punished for being bored in a boring class? New generations are growing up in a multi-tasking, quick moving world that demands a 20 second attention span everywhere but the classroom. Many educators know technology will only become more engrained in all our lives and are looking for ways to engage students with a 21st Century experience. Is it possible that a large part of the 10 percent increase in mental illness are made up of students that don’t need a drug but need a change in location, a new peer group, a hobby, or someone to talk to?

Have students put their problems in perspective to see the change they can make independently of prescription drugs.  The rate of depression in other countries, where many students are working multiple jobs, going to school full-time and taking advantage of education as a way to improve the lives they came from, is much lower.  There is a connection between being busy, having goals and a purpose and succeeding emotionally, academically and socially.   Where do students see themselves in five years?  What obstacles will they need to overcome to make their dreams happen?  What failures and setbacks can make them stronger as people?   What would the person you want to become say to you today to encourage you out of a rut?   If we can help students build a strong spirit, we give them a tool to overcome a variety of problems.  Once they learn to solve their own problems, they can go on to solve some of the problems which the world needs them to solve.

Finally, for a closing perspective, watch Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA animated lecture, “Changing Education Paradigms.”

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