According to recent studies, 2 per cent of children aged 11 to 15, and one in 10 16 to 24-year-olds, suffer from major depressive disorders at any one time. Milder forms of anxiety affect 3 per cent of five to 15-year-olds and one in seven young adults. Such trends were highlighted earlier this year in a “report card” compiled by Unicef, focusing on the wellbeing of children in 21 developed economies. In it, the UK came bottom of the global league – behind former Eastern bloc countries such as Hungary and Poland. Child poverty, family troubles and the “dog eat dog” mentality prevalent in certain aspects of modern British life were blamed for its score.


But can children today really be more stressed out than they were, say, 20 or even 50 years ago? And, if so, how can we teach them to be happy? Adeyfield’s head teacher, Peter Hepburn, is in no doubt that today’s schoolchildren face more pressures than their forebears. “There’s all the pressure of school testing, and the media and celebrity are causing anxiety about what children look like and what they wear,” he says. “Then there are other material issues in Hertfordshire: your parents need two incomes to bring you up comfortably.”


His observations chime with warnings by the Labour peer Lord Layard, the director of the Well-Being Programme at the LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance, and the Government’s so-called happiness tsar. Delivering the annual Ashby Lecture at Cambridge University in May, he argued that a climate of individualism in Britain and America was preventing children achieving happiness. Calling for the Pennsylvania approach to be applied across the whole state sector, he said: “I am talking about something bigger than a programme. I am talking about the reversal of a major cultural trend towards increased consumerism, increased inter-personal competition, and increased interest in celebrity and money.” …


By James Morrison, Independent; read complete