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What do senior high school students need the most?

By Glen Gerreyn

“I have really bad anxiety and am depressed. On some nights I feel like my life is not worth living. I just think about how I’m not worth it, not important. Here’s the thing though. You told us all we were important. That hit home for me that minute. I was holding back tears; to be told you are important is something everyone should be told… not just once but many, many times. I have been called pretty, nice, smart etc. But being called important really hits a heart string.”

Year 10 Student Kingscliff, QLD 2016

In 2015 there were 4 million Australians (17.5%) who reported having a mental health or behaviour condition according to the latest Australia Bureau of Statistics data. Why has almost a fifth of our population today sunk into a deep funk?

Senior high school students today are under considerable stress. Students worry about a wide range of issues including academic performance, navigating their on and offline identities and family and peer pressures. Their world is increasingly complex; socially, environmentally and politically.

Some have described it as a V.U.C.A world. An atmosphere, which is Volatile – Uncertain – Complex and Ambiguous. How do we prepare young people to live in a world where change is so rapid and disruption has become the norm?

This environment is causing many to flounder – drifting away from their true identity, forgetting their purpose and being blinded by societal pressures and global fears. In order for them to cope with and succeed in this very daunting world comes an increased need for finding a true and strong sense of self and developing and maintaining their innate brilliance.

I believe there is one element which if fostered correctly can help our senior high schools students thrive. The HopeFull Institute’s primary aim is to expand and strengthen a student’s capacity to hope.

Professor Snyder the world’s leading expert on hope discovered a formula for hope. His formula is Goals + Pathways + Self-Efficacy = Hope. Motivational strategy is a far more robust science than the hype filled days of our past. The data is clear, hope can be instilled, it can be increased and once fostered, can influence and impact your world.

Hope also correlates positively with self-esteem, positive emotions, athletic performance, health and wellbeing and greater academic satisfaction.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these components from this formula individually. Samuel Coleridge captured the first element on goals succinctly when he said, ‘Hope without an object cannot live.’ A goal provides endpoints and anchors our thoughts to a set outcome. Hopeful goals must contain a sense of uncertainty. Goals, which have a 100% probability of attainment, do not require hope; hence goals must always be a stretch.

“A little over a month ago, I found out my Dad was diagnosed with cancer and it really took a toll on me. My self-esteem plummeted, my anxiety levels rose quite drastically and I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything anymore, although these things weren’t just synonymous with what is happening with Dad. I couldn’t seem to pick myself back up and keep looking forward into the future to where I want to be. Hearing your talk to the Grade 11’s and also by you sharing your story with us, I can see that no matter what happens in life, overcoming is possible.”

Year 11 Student, Coorparoo, QLD 2016

The second element shows us that pathways are vital. When coaching students, a large portion of my time is helping them map out alternate pathways. Many students get locked into a pattern of thinking there is only one pathway to get from A to B. Not realising B can be reached through a variety of possibilities. This change in perspective alone can increase ones capacity to hope.

The third and last element to fostering hope is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy relates to persons belief in their capacity to produce the desired effects by their own actions. This is the best part of my job, to see the look in the eyes of a young person who has been enlightened to the truth of their own capacity to change.

Here are some basic assumptions about hope, human nature and the process of change as outlined by Dr Shane Lopez.

  • Hope theory is a cognitive model of human motivation.Many people face automatic negative thoughts that may impede successful goal pursuit.
  • Everyone has the capacity for hopeful thinking.
  • Level of hopeful thinking can be increased.
  • We are time oriented, with evaluations of the past and the future influencing the present.
  • Nearly all situations can be construed hopefully.
  • Experiences and social expectations effect the development of hope.
  • Many people face automatic negative thoughts that may impede successful goal pursuit.

We all aware of how a person can make themselves happy or miserable irrespective of what is actually happening in their environment by changing the contents of their consciousness. Have you ever seen someone transform a hopeless situation into a challenge to be overcome? The capacity to develop hopeful mindset is vitally important not only for succeeding in life but for enjoying it as well.

“I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, severe anxiety, and anorexia. I have been in Flinders Hospital for three weeks during this past month with a nasogastric tube feeding me, no hope of any goals or dreams, and thought that there was no place I was going. Luckily, I was discharged just in time to see your speech today. Now I feel like I have a place to go, can have dreams and goals that can happen, and can fully recover from my illnesses. So, my contribution to my goal of recovery, which I began today, was to eat all of my afternoon tea, all of my dinner, and then helped myself to more food when I was hungry without being asked or pushed into eating it. It may sound small, but it was a massive step to push away the eating disorder. I'm really proud of myself. Keep up the amazing work you're doing, its so inspiring and has truly helped me see that one day there is hope for me.”

Year 11 Student Adelaide, SA 2016

It is all too easy to let go of hope, to be scared of trying just in case you fail, but I firmly believe in this message of hope and believe if applied correctly can transform lives. I have seen its power manifest right before my eyes.

In an age where cynicism has become synonymous with maturity, I want to tap into the secret hopes and dreams of young people, validate who they are who and who they are called to be and then teach them positive, responsible and real-world steps to completing the journey – steps that rely on taking responsibility, being daring, working hard, developing self-discipline and deciding to be full of hope.

“I would like to start off by saying a massive thankyou. Thanks to you I have just realised that I AM worth something and just how much I am worth. What you said today will fuel me to keep going no matter what, I do not believe you could even begin to fathom the effect you had on me today. So thank you, you have literally changed my viewpoint on life.”

Year 10 Student, Blakeview, SA 2016

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