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We can all feel down, stressed or lonely at different times in our lives. Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions can affect anyone. But for many of us, putting our hand up and asking for help can be incredibly difficult. It is therefore important for the whole community to know the signs that someone is struggling and know how to offer support. 

On Thursday 12th of September, individuals, schools, workplaces and communities across Australia got behind R U OK?Day. Whether it was a morning tea, a sausage sizzle, a school assembly or a fundraiser, R U OK?Day sparked discussions about mental health and the importance of having regular, meaningful conversations with the people around us.

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Adolescence is a period of immense physical and emotional vulnerability. For most of us vulnerability has negative connotations – we see it as a weakness and something we should try to avoid. Vulnerability is defined as being easily hurt, influenced or attacked, so it makes sense that we try to avoid it at all costs!

On the other hand, vulnerability is necessary for meaningful human connection. It is the foundation upon which healthy relationships are built

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Humans are hard-wired to pay attention to the negative. This ‘negativity bias’ is an ancient survival tool that helps us remain vigilant and respond to threats in our environment. Parents, caregivers and teachers will know this bias all too well, often finding themselves honing in on children’s shortcomings and pointing out the behaviours they need to change. This is a normal human response – we do it because we want children to stay safe and do well in the world!

But in the process we can forget to acknowledge their strengths. 

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Something happens when we go to school. Yes, we learn to read, we learn to write, to count, we learn about history, geography, languages, how our world works - all wondrous, valuable things. 

We also learn, very quickly, that learning is measured and should be tested, constantly. We learn that data drives schools and policies, and that one’s worth is often tied up in those final results. And in that, we lose our sense of play, of discovery, of creativity. Ken Robinson, in his seminal Ted Talk Do Schools Kill Creativity?, argues that our schooling systems are "educating people out of their creative capacities" and that we are not only growing out of our creativity, but "we get educated out of it’".  

Alongside this, schools are becoming increasingly aware of the need to nurture and implement wellbeing programs that foster agency, resilience and self-management strategies. When children are a part of a system, however, how can we do this?

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