How Learning New Skills Helps Mental Health

Date

Celebrating World Youth Skills Day by exploring the relationship between skill development and mental health.

The United Nations General Assembly officially recognises 15th July as World Youth Skills Day. In recognition of this fact, today’s blog will explore some of the ways in which developing skills strengthens the individual mental health of young people of all ages and abilities and enables engaged participation in broader communities. 

Each culture has its own understanding of how young people can and should participate in work, but learning tangible skills benefits all children and adolescents. As young people begin to move into adulthood and the working world, they need support and guidance to develop the skills required to accomplish their goals and participate meaningfully in society. 

Skill-building also provides them with a framework for believing in their own abilities and seeing the benefits of their role within a community. This is critical in developing feelings of self-worth, confidence, and capability, which, if nurtured, will help support good mental health throughout their lifetime.

The History of World Youth Skills Day: Reducing Barriers to Work

The idea behind the development of World Youth Skills Day by the United Nations in 2014 was to celebrate the importance of providing young people with the skills they need to find employment and decent work within their local communities and the global economy at large. Specifically, the aim of the UN in introducing this day of awareness was to shine a light on young people who are more often excluded from skill-building. Depending on where or how they live, many young people are prevented from developing the skills they need to thrive. 

For example, young women and girls are kept from education or skill development in many cultures, as are young people with disabilities and mental health conditions. Youths from poorer or disadvantaged households and rural environments are also excluded in many places as well. Minority groups and indigenous peoples in certain countries are prevented from obtaining beneficial skills for work, as are young people who are suffering or have suffered the consequences of conflict, political instability, or natural disasters.[1]

How Skill Development Supports Young People’s Mental Health 

But what does skill development have to do with young people’s mental health? In many places around the globe, mental health support and care for young people is critically underfunded, or else lacking entirely[2] meaning that children and teenagers who are struggling with mental health conditions have no access to treatment or recovery resources. However, skill development programmes offer resources which can be highly beneficial to supporting mental health in young people, and which in fact may exemplify existing treatment strategies and interventions.

A good case study to illustrate how this works is that of youth suicide. According to the Unicef report State of the World’s Children 2021, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds.[3] This age range is identified by psychologists as a time of heightened risk for suicide: some of the main factors that increase vulnerability to suicide among young people include inner feelings of hopelessness or uselessness, as well as external social factors such as poverty, social isolation, and family or academic pressure.[4]

Though suicide can be extremely hard to prevent, research consistently indicates that one of the best ways to prevent a young person who is thinking about suicide (what is known as suicidal ideation)[5] from attempting it is to provide interventions which promote meaningful connection and community engagement, emphasise education and resilience and strengthen personal and family security.[6][7][8]

Given that the state of mental health support and care for young people is lacking in many places worldwide, placing emphasis on and encouraging skill development in young people is an excellent way to address the risk of suicide for several reasons.

First, skill development allows young people to engage in meaningful activities with tangible results, which can help address feelings of hopelessness or uselessness. Furthermore, it provides the chance to engage with others through mentorship or collaborative learning, which can reduce social isolation.

Second, helping young people learn new skills that will allow them to enter the workforce provides them with income, which can better support them as individuals and their families, alleviate poverty and reduce family pressure. Having skills that benefit other members of their communities also encourages young people to meet new people, engage with community projects, and build social support networks that may otherwise have been lacking.

Finally, there is the simple fact that learning new skills – becoming good at something, learning new talents, and producing meaningful work or goods – significantly improves confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy in young people.[9] 

At The Wave, we know there are strong links between recovery and meaningful opportunities to learn and develop new skills. We know that adolescence is a time for being inquisitive and taking risks, so we give our young people the opportunity to learn and try out new skills. This could be collaboratively building complex Lego creations, learning to cook and serve healthy, balanced meals, engaging in new sports and outdoor activities, playing musical instruments and writing songs, or even learning to care for animals at the SPCA. 

To learn more about the experiences we encourage as a part of our treatment and recovery programme, visit https://thewaveclinic.com/experiences/

Sources

[1] United Nations. (2022) Transforming Youth Skills for the Future. World Skills Day. UN Observances. https://www.un.org/en/observances/world-youth-skills-day

[8] Wainberg, M. L., et al. (2017). Challenges and Opportunities in Global Mental Health: a Research-to-Practice Perspective. Current psychiatry reports, 19(5), 28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0780-z

[2] Unicef Data. (2021) The State of the World’s Children 2021. Unicef. October 2021, https://data.unicef.org/resources/sowc-2021-dashboard-and-tables/.

[3] Michail M, Mughal F, Robinson J. Suicide prevention in young people: optimising primary care. Br J Gen Pract. 2020 Feb 27;70(692):104-105. doi: 10.3399/bjgp20X708329. PMID: 32107216; PMCID: PMC7038832.

[4] Harmer B, Lee S, Duong TVH, Saadabadi A. Suicidal Ideation. 2022 May 2. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan–. PMID: 33351435.

[5] CDC. (2022) Suicide Prevention: Prevention Strategies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/suicide/prevention/index.html

[6] Williams K. (1997) Preventing suicide in young people: what is known and what is needed. Child Care Health Dev. Mar;23(2):173-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.1997.tb00891.x. PMID: 9088635.

[7] Michail M, Mughal F, Robinson J. (2020) Suicide prevention in young people: optimising primary care. Br J Gen Pract. Feb 27;70(692):104-105. doi: 10.3399/bjgp20X708329. PMID: 32107216; PMCID: PMC7038832.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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