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Mental health: could studying as an adult help you towards wellbeing?

By Fi Darby | 11 December 2018

Could studying as an adult help your mental health and wellbeing? There are many benefits to studying as an adult. In previous generations, the perception was that studying had a shelf life; now people continue with formal education as a matter of fact; adding new, specialised qualifications to their portfolio in order to plug skills gaps and remain relevant in the workforce. But what if studying as an adult had another, deeper, benefit?

Mental health issues are on the rise within Australia, and this is something to be aware of. It’s been found that over the course of their lifetime, nearly half of all Australians will experience a mental illness. Consequentially, the financial implication to Australian businesses of untreated mental health conditions is around $10.9 billion a year. The concept of wellbeing is intrinsically linked to mental health and includes such issues as perceived happiness, life satisfaction and sense of purpose but can be difficult to pin down when it comes to daily life.

What are the “5 ways to wellbeing”?

  1. Connect.
  2. Keep learning.
  3. Be active.
  4. Give.
  5. Take notice.
Research evidence suggests, however, that there are 5 steps to mental wellbeing we can all take and that lifelong learning is a key element in meeting these. Whether you have a busy work life, are a stay at home parent or have other commitments, online learning can provide the perfect opportunity to study in a way that suits you, and how learning can help you unlock the 5 ways to wellbeing.

1. Connect.

Connect with others online who are keen on learning what you are

puzzle pieces being put together

The ‘connect’ way to wellbeing is all about talking to other people and feeling connected with them. When we connect with people we gain access to emotional support, are able to give and receive advice and can validate our feelings by finding out that others feel the same way we do.

Routes to connection might include:
  • Getting to know your neighbours
  • Joining in with a club or activity
  • Online connection followed by physical meet-ups
If you thought that an online couldn’t offer opportunities for connection with other people, you would be wrong. Modern online training is set up to include a wealth of collaborative and cooperative activities, all designed to enhance your student experience.

These include:
  • Regular webinars
  • Discussion boards and forums
  • A dedicated trainer/student messaging system
  • Access to a student support services help desk
  • Innovative learning materials designed to encourage collaboration
  • Student tasks that involve communicating with the wider community

2. Keep learning.

Don’t be afraid of adding new skills to your knowledge portfolio

young woman in library listening to music wearing white headphones

In the year 2017-2018, almost 50% of Australians aged 15-74 took part in some form of education,  proving that both Australians and Australian employers value learning. However, learning doesn’t just up your chances of getting a better job, it can also improve your wellbeing and mental health.

This could be via things such as:
  • Improved reactions to stress
  • Positive feelings related to achievement
  • Increased social interaction
  • Enhanced feelings of hope, purpose and self-esteem
Both formal learning, such as online qualifications, and informal learning, such as visiting an art gallery, can help you to feel the benefits of learning but structured online courses can provide additional paybacks.

These might include:
  • Certificates or endorsements to reflect participation and success
  • Training in specific industry niches (e.g. mortgage broking)
  • Evidence of learning for resumes or application forms
  • Globally recognised qualifications (e.g. network security)

3. Be active.

Add extra online study sessions to your day/night at appropriate intervals

couple hiking with baby

The Department of Health recommend that Australian adults exercise each day of the week, clock up 2.5 – 5 hours of moderate activity each week and include strengthening activities on at least 2 days a week.

We are a long way from achieving these goals and our sedentary lifestyles are having a negative impact on our lives. Whilst online learning does, to a great extent, involve time spent sitting in front of a computer, it also presents a flexible learning option that can allow for exercise time.

Potentially in the following ways:
  • Study during the hours of darkness leaving daylight hours for getting outside
  • Structure some online learning tasks to include exercise, for example through door to door surveys or high street market research
  • Use saved college or university commute time to visit the gym or pool
If you are aware that your levels of exercise aren’t up to recommendation, you might want to consider training towards a career that will involve less time behind the desk and more time moving around.

Such careers could include:

4. Give.

Study in a mindful way and listen to your “inner voice” when it comes to your goals

person offering wrapped present

Altruism, which can be defined as acting in the interests of someone else, comes in many forms and gives wellbeing benefits that go way beyond that initial warm feeling. Some psychologists believe that our tendency towards empathy is hard-wired into our brains because of its survival benefits.

Other benefits of altruism or giving that lead to mental wellbeing include:
  • The release of endorphins that stimulate the trust and pleasure areas of our brains
  • Reduced isolation through connection with other people
  • An increased sense of perspective
  • A reduction in stress
  • The neutralisation of negative feelings
Online education can offer opportunity for giving or altruism in several ways.

These include:
  • It can lead to careers that involve caring, such as community services or education
  • It can lead to careers that involve healing, such as health science and herbal medicine
  • It can lead to careers that involve service such as retail or hospitality
  • It can give opportunities for collaborative working
  • It can give opportunities for voluntary work in the community

5. Take notice.

Learn to concentrate, and be aware of over-multitasking when studying as an adult

someone tearing off paper ad on street

One of the key things that learning does for you, particularly if you haven’t studied in a while, is that it reminds you to take notice of the things around you. Mindfulness is another way of describing ‘taking notice’ and involves developing your capacity to do the certain things.

These include:
  • Slow down your inner dialogue
  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Undertake daily activities deliberately instead of on ‘auto-pilot’
Online study, particularly if you can study from home, is great for those wanting to practice their mindfulness skills. Whereas studying in a room full of other people can be distracting and sometimes irritating, particularly after a busy day, studying by yourself online is often a calming experience.

You can improve your mindfulness or taking notice skills through online study by:
  • Undertaking a body scan and understanding how your body is feeling
  • Focusing on one task at a time and slowing down a damaging multitasking habit
  • Being aware of your immediate surroundings, your chair, the carpet under your feet etc.

Studying as an adult can earn you better career traction

91% of Australians believe that mental health in the workplace is important (compared to 88% who think the same about physical safety). This just shows how keen we are to redress the mental health balance both for ourselves and for our colleagues.

The 5 ways to wellbeing offer a usable framework within which improvements can be structured on both an organisational and a personal level and it can be clearly seen from the ideas above that online learning has a strong part to play in the wellbeing of Australians and Australia.

Interesed in mental health?

Diagnosed mental health issues are on the rise in Australia, so there is a need for more mental health workers in the community services industry. The CHC43315 Certificate IV in Mental Health qualification will allow you to develop the specialist skills to work with clients with a mental health illness.

Including a work placement, this comprehensive certificate will give you the job-ready skills you need to find employment in the sector, whether as a stand alone qualification, or as a supplement to a degree.
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