In the last few days there has been a lot in the news about mental health issues, especially in relation to their prevalence and the impact they may have on younger people. I was pleased that this is now getting more recognition and maybe even getting some kind of action to something that has often been overlooked.
First off, I’m going to have a little bit of rant on this specific area, but please do not think I am any way promoting this over other age groups that can have difficulties (including my own, and I mean that very personally too) or the different types of mental health issues that many people suffer. This is vast, and I just cannot cover everything in few hundred words so I’ll let other people talk about that. Or maybe I will give my thoughts some other week.
Anyway, my own epiphany in trying to understand this came from some very interesting TED talks which challenged me (there are quite a few, I particularly like this one https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene )
The challenge partly was why society tends to treat issues with mental health in a very different way to physical health, in terms perhaps not so much as the level of effort put against it (and I say that because there are many physical conditions which are underfunded/not given the same level of support as others) but in the stigma that is often consciously or unconsciously attached to them. This is also true to the point that most people, myself included, do not know how to help manage our mental state when it is put upon by something that knocks us out of kilter, whether it be a temporary thing or something we have to live with for an extended period.
Where I live, in a nice and relatively affluent English town just outside the M25 it all looks pretty good on the surface. I would say that in many areas most of the young people growing up here are really lucky. It is certainly a very different from where I grew up in the North East of the England. There is more money, more obvious opportunities and certainly I feel very blessed now to be living here (and if we had been able to have children I would have been happy to see them grow up here). However, at the same time, there is a side to this that increasingly worries people and it latches onto one of two themes with youth I feel passionately about. One of those themes is potential, which I have touched on before. But this week what worries me is the pressure to succeed and be seen as a success, which drives a distressingly large number of young people in the area I live to suffer a range of issues up to and sadly including suicide.
It seems something quite intense to me possibly because I do not recall having the problem. As the first person in my family to get into university the only pressure I felt at school was self-imposed – my parents where incredibly supported but as they left school with no qualifications anything I achieved they rejoiced in. I wanted to do well to justify the sacrifices they had made but they, and the environment where I lived, did not place expectations on me, consciously or unconsciously.
My home town now is very different to this and manifests that atmosphere of high expectation in a way that makes people feel they must succeed and succeed all the time and that one misstep might suddenly destroy some conceptual version of their future life and career. With experience, you know that while things might get more difficult or your plans might have to change, there are always possibilities. But the ‘it’s all over if you don’t get your grades’ mentality remains. It is reinforced at every turn, by families, peers and in social media – often acting with the best of intentions. Many times everything is fine, I am blessed to know a lot of young people who have learned to cope; but when it does go wrong it can be catastrophic.
The good news; people seem to be talking about this now, which is always a good start if you want to get somewhere. I am hoping to be involved in at least one local project that will try and be a support group for local youth to try and mitigate some of that anxiety that can be harmful – I hope it is at least able to help save some kids from suffering necessarily. That would be a success for me, or perhaps I should say a good place to start.