Saturday, March 26, 2016

Expectations and Mental Health

Mental health issues are best viewed in their entire context. Claims of increasing mental illness among our youth are overwrought in large part because these fail consider context. One important aspect of context involves the expectations of students, as well as those around them.

As noted previously, learning and growth is supposed to be uncomfortable. Refining one's approach to thought and decision-making is difficult business, as we must separate bias from rationality and objectivity, the dross and gold of education. Costa (2016) sees this as a process of unlearning, to which recent cohorts of students are reacting poorly to as a result of their expectations for their college experience. In particular she sees this as a clash between the inherent stresses of learning and a mindset which over-values performance ratings, preconceived notions of success, discomfort with ambivalence and doubt, and a hyper-focus on outcome rather than process.

This is a view which deserves more consideration. It could help explain, for example, high rates of self-reported distress in the absence of true or moderate to severe mental illness. It is consistent with observations concerning modern parenting practices, the coping skills repertoire of adolescents and young adults, and data which support rapid positive changes in these dynamics with just a modicum of support or counseling.

In the popular press we often see polarizing comments about higher education, parents, and students, and this is not useful. It is the interaction of all three, mediated by the expectations of each, which deserves our attention and investigation.