Prior to COVID-19, mental health among teens were already on the rise. A 2018 study conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and Melbourne University shows that the mental health and well-being of Australian students has declined significantly since 2003. Nearly half of the students surveyed reported feeling “very stressed” (up from 28% in 2003). The number of students who reported feeling confident while doing difficult school work has fallen from 76% to 59%. The findings also show an increasing lack of resilience among a growing number of young people.
COVID-19 has resulted in further deterioration of mental health in teens. The constant disruption in education settings, social isolation, watching parents deal with job losses, financial or health issues as well as seeing news and social media coverage of COVID-19 can be unsettling or distressing for adolescents. This can have a significant impact on their mental health, especially if they are already at high risk.
Secondary School students also face far more complex issues in comparison to Primary School students. They are experiencing a myriad of physical changes and emotions brought upon by puberty, they are under immense pressure to performing well academically and make the right choices on the path to take as they enter adulthood.
Stress can impede the ability to focus, concentrate and self-regulate emotions. These factors can lead to poor academic performance, early dropouts and participation in risky behaviour.
Australian children spend 13 years in school. Schools therefore have the power to equip children with tools and techniques that help them take personal responsibility for managing their physical and mental health and wellbeing from an early age.
How Yoga Can Help
Yoga is a modality that has been proven to be effective in helping children and teens manage their mental health and wellbeing. Yoga can help children focus, self-regulate their emotions, instil a sense of calmness as well as grounding to help children build resilience, optimism and self-confidence. This helps children deal with change, while also improving their physical strength and flexibility.
Research conducted in the US has shown that introducing yoga in schools can have positive effects on student concentration, self-regulation, attention, anxiety, stress, mood and resilience.
A well-developed yoga program can help address issues such as depression, anxiety, digestion, focus and concentration, weight management, menstruation, bullying and building strong backs and healthy lungs, to name a few. The program should include breathing exercises, balanced yoga poses done individually, in partners or in groups, mindfulness and reflection exercises, games, relaxation and meditation – adjusted appropriately for the age group.
A class delivered in a way that engages the children / teens and their thirst for knowledge will help ensure retention of the techniques taught and application outside the class when they really need it. This can help encourage a love and appreciation for yoga, mindfulness, meditation and self care for the rest of their lives.
15 June 2018, Student Stress on the rise – report, The Educator
Ferreira – Vorkapic C, Feitoza JM, Marchioro M, Simoes J, Kozasa E and Telles S, 2015, Are there benefits from teaching yoga at schools?, Hindawi Publishing Corporation
Butxer B, Ebert M. Telles S and Khalsa S, 2016, School-based Yoga Programs in the United States: A Survey, HHS Public Access, US