Mental wellbeing: a sixth form perspective

Mental wellbeing: a sixth form perspective
Date19th Apr 2021AuthorSir Anthony SeldonCategoriesStudent Life

Here is the great news. You have it within your own power to make your lives better and happier for yourselves and others around you.

The really exciting news though is that sixth formers are at the ideal stage in life to learn how to be more in control of your own happiness. 

For the last five years, I ran a university. It is common knowledge that the mental health of 18 to 22-year-olds, whether in HE or not, is declining. Covid of course has not helped. But the long-term trends were downward even before Covid stopped last year. Being a young adult, at least in terms of your mental health, has never been tougher.

All that you as sixth formers need to improve your lives are just two things. Here we go.

First, you need the knowledge of how your lives can be happier. Second, you need to apply it. Sounds easy? The first part might be easier than the second part. 

First, and this can be quite a shock to some, you need to realise that you create your own happiness or misery. Whether you are born in the north or the south, to a rich or a not well off family, you have the freedom and choice to make your own life. You, not anybody else, are responsible for it, and for the decisions that you take.

We now know much more than ever before in history what makes for happiness and for unhappiness. It’s so obvious, but colleges and schools rarely teach it to students before the age of 16. 

At the heart of it is a simple word: Harmony. If you can live in a way that is harmonious with people around you, it will make you feel much better. If you go out of your way to care for and be thoughtful about your family and friends, it will make you feel good and happy. If you are unpleasant and have bad relationships, it will make you feel bad, however you might disguise it. Good relationships lie at the very heart of happiness. Bad relationships lie at the very heart of unhappiness.

Harmony with your body and mind comes next. If you look after your body, as you might a pet, by nourishing it well, resting it properly and exercising it, your body too will look after you. If you don’t give yourself enough sleep, don’t take exercise, and eat badly, or fill your body up with alcohol and drugs, you may feel good in the short term, but it will catch up with you sooner rather than later.

Harmony with the environment produces happiness. If you organise your space and time so you are on top, and create a pleasant environment around you, you will feel lifted. Try it.

So, you now have the knowledge about how to live a happier life as a sixth former and beyond. The difficult part though is applying it in your life.

The way to do this is to take it step by step, try out different things and see. It’s natural to be sceptical. So try out some of these things and see if they work for you. If they do, you can start doing them more often, and build them into your life. It’s all about building good habits and good patterns in your life.

The reality is that many students are leaving colleges and schools at 18 without the basic knowledge about how to manage their own happiness – and we are surprised at the rising problems? Remember, you have the agency and the power over your own life. 

Final thought. The unhappier your own life is, the unhappier you will make people who care for and love you. The happier you become, the happier you will make them as well. This is the very opposite of being selfish. Good luck!

Sir Anthony Seldon is an historian, educationalist, and political commentator. He has served as head of two leading public schools, Brighton College and Wellington College, and has just completed a five-year term as Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham.

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