How can we give students struggling with their mental health the resources they need to improve their personal well-being?
Mental health issues have been a prominent problem in the lives of many teenagers. This issue has heightened since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In my personal life, I have seen many of my friends struggle with their mental health and it has inspired me to create this project to find ways to help them improve their mental health. Current statistics indicate that 1 in 5 teens suffer with at least one mental disorder. On top of this, many teens are struggling to find ways to cope with their mental health issues and don’t have the resources they need. Therapy and medications can be expensive and many people can’t afford these resources. I believe that the most effective way to get this message across, and to help teens, is through education on the subject. More specifically, creating a workshop where they are able to learn about positive psychology and gratitude practices. Learning about positive psychology and implementing gratitude practices improves one’s mental health and it could help many teens who are looking for ways to improve their mental health.
What is PERMA? Why is it important?
To keep it simple, PERMA is an acronym that stands for: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. This was a theory created by Martin Seligman, one of the founders of positive psychology. Martin Seligman believes that in order to achieve overall well-being we must be strong in these aspects of life. We must have positive emotions; we need to try our best to be optimistic and invite positive feelings in our lives without letting the negative ones get the best of us. Engagement: we must be engaged in daily activities such as school, work, sports, or hobbies. Relationships: strong relationships in our lives make our lives better and invite good feelings into our minds. Meaning: we must do things that give us meaning and do them on a regular basis. Accomplishment: it is important to take pride and ownerships of the accomplishments we’ve done which can include anything from academics to reaching goals in our personal lives. This theory is tremendously important because it gives us guidance on how to improve our own lives to reach a better sense of well-being.
Gratitude practices are exercises that one does to express gratitude. There is no right or wrong way to express gratitude and there are many ways to do so. These practices have been scientifically proven to help our well-being and reduce mental illness over time but they must be done on a daily basis and for at least 3 months to see neurological changes. Nonetheless, gratitude practices can help an individual feel better in the moment and help someone through a stressful time. Examples of gratitude practices you can try include:
Other Benefits of Gratitude
- Gratitude releases toxic emotions. Studies have shown that the hippocampus and amygdala are activated when we feel gratitude. This is important because these parts of our brain are used to regulate our emotions, memory, and bodily functions.
- Gratitude relieves and reduces pain. Gratitude has shown to increase dopamine and this increase in dopamine helps to reduce subjective feelings of pain.
- Gratitude helps to improve sleep quality. It has been proven that by acting with gratitude and being kind to others activates our hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of our brain that is in charge of our sleep and by activating this part of our brains, we can get to sleep quicker, deeper, and healthier.
- Gratitude aids in stress regulation. McCraty and his colleagues performed a study in 1988 that tested the effects of gratitude. The results showed that those who felt grateful had decreased levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone. Therefore, those who are grateful, experience less stress.
- Gratitude reduces depression and anxiety. Gratitude can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety since gratitude practices are able to increase the neural modulation of the prefrontal cortex which is in charge of negative emotions. When that area of the brain is better regulated, the negative feelings that come with depression and anxiety are heavily reduced.
A researcher by the name of Josh Brown, from Indiana University Bloomington, wanted to learn more about the long term effects of gratitude on individuals. He created an experiment where he collected a large group of subjects who all suffered from depression and anxiety. Every person received counselling before the experiment had begun. He then separated these people into groups of three. The first group had to write letters of gratitude. The second group had to write down all of their deepest thoughts and feelings. The third group wrote nothing at all. All groups did these experiments daily for three months. Brown was able to see the results and improvement in the subjects’ mental health after three months. He found that those who specifically wrote about expressing gratitude, saw improved mental health. He was able to make a clear connection between gratitude practices and an improved mental health and well-being.
How to use gratitude practices?
Gratitude practices take many shapes and forms. In order to start using these practices, you must pick a strategy that you are willing to spend each day doing. Some gratitude practices are more suitable for your life, so do your research! You can use strategies described in this project or check some other ones from online resources. The important part is choosing a practice that makes you feel grateful and encourages you to express gratefulness wether that be in your own head or to someone else. In order to feel reduced levels of depression, anxiety, or other similar mental illnesses, these strategies must be used daily and for long periods of time. Gratitude practices are an easy and cheap way to take care of your mental health and well-being!