Much of our current crisis in mental health is being attributed to Covid - it's just not that simple. When we treat mental health issues as disorders rather than a reflection of our living styles' we create a licence to treat the symptoms of a phenomena that is often caused by our modern lifestyles
Sure’ there are the profound and enduring mental health states that have always been there’ trauma and abuse is real for many’ but for others’ a mental health problem can reflect social position’ hardship’ powerlessness and the vicissitudes of the modern market which in combination provide subtly and pervasive impacts on mental well-being. For our young people there are a number of factors that impact on them particularly. Here are just a few:
Many research studies have said that preoccupation with debt creates a form of constant anxiety that results in an inability to function optimally. Our young people have grown up with increasingly tacit assumptions that debt is a natural part of their lives and easily accessible’ rather than something to minimise. Easy access to credit extends even further to education with loan systems that commit a significant part of one’s adult life to repayment should one simply achieve average earnings. Debt has become the norm.
There’s been an intensification of images of fashion’ beauty’ lifestyle and people living the good life’ as shown through social media. As a consequence’ fear of missing out (FOMO) is a well-known phenomenon. As creatures of comparison’ constantly having the lifestyles of the apparently successful paraded in front of us can manifest itself in feelings of inadequacy.
Although there are fewer wars and greater media exposure and challenge of extreme regimes than ever before around the world’ people live in fear for their own safety. There is an understandable sense of insecurity amongst women for example’ in the light of certain cases such as that of Sarah Everard recently’ but the tragic reality is this is not new’ it’s just that we are now so much more aware of it. This awareness not only brings the opportunities for unprecedented social change and justice’ but also an increasingly attendant sense of risk.
Technology’ unless one is intensely disciplined’ can easily dominate our lives and control behaviours. It starts with simple stimulus response type behaviours where we are almost ‘conditioned’ and then converted by AI into data commodities by companies that play to our preferences to get us to engage with their systems of economic generation. In this sense’ we suffer the two-edged sword of our lives being simultaneously facilitated and manipulated. We can experience powerlessness’ whilst participating in this marketplace. We can be better connected with the world with literally thousands of contacts’ but there is a shallowness of connection in so many cases that misrepresents the real dynamics of human relationships. The nomenclature normally used with close relationships such as “friend”‘ is less honoured by actual contact and familiarity that builds trust and aids judgement’ so much as by the click of a button.
Mobile phones’ apps and emails can also intensify human interaction in ways that create misunderstandings and increasingly emotive exchanges. Disputes and dilemmas are carried home and instead of an overnight firebreak to cool off’ can result in escalating exchanges into the early hours of the morning.
Finally’ overload frequently occurs with the need to constantly sift huge amounts of data in order to function in an information-based society. This often washes out the detail and richness of living’ reducing everything to ‘top tips” ‘Guru’ opinions and a default to cognitive biases.
We knew about the dangers of a diminishing support ratio (the number of people economically active to those dependent) in the 1970s’ but successive governments did little about it. Young people see themselves increasingly having to take on the burdens of an older generation who they see as having reaped the economic benefits of post-war booms leaving younger generations to foot the bill. Whilst this perception could be debated’ the real truth is speculation in the housing market and the lack of social housing makes it a real challenge for young people to be independent. Proportionate to real wages since the 1970s’ house price increases have gone up fourfold without the tax or other reliefs previously given’ resulting in the average age of getting on the housing ladder now being around thirty-seven.
Both the market and law enforcement technologies along with policies that turn what were once antisocial transgressions into de facto crimes have resulted in a surveillance culture in which young people are far more accountable than they ever were.
Where previous generations transgressed unnoticed or it wasn’t an issue’ now you can be easily identified’ held to account’ then tried both in courts of law and social media in a way that previous generations never were. Climate Humans inevitably rely on a positive view of the future: better; progressive; egalitarian and technologically supported. We now see globalisation wreaking havoc with the ecosystem sufficient that teenagers are motivated to go onto the world stage to challenge politicians’ industrialists’ the list goes on! Real risk to one’s very own biosphere’ creates a subtle range of stresses which simultaneously activate’ agitate and depress.
Finally young people possess the hopes’ goals and aspirations of all generations. Existential anxiety is a common condition deriving from the need to live one’s life in a meaningful’ fulfilling way. Such meaning is often derived from being part of the community’ learning to understand one’s emotions and sharing by the giving and receiving of support’ something often eroded by more distant’ technologically based cultures.
I see this daily with many of the people who come to talk to me. Their strength is that they do come and talk and in that often rediscover themselves. We live in a world where realising our dreams of fame and fortune can often be at the price of losing sight of our common humanity. We all have a duty to be careful about the models and values we give to young people whilst we pursue our preferred lifestyles and profits.