Five ways Britain wrecks young people’s mental health.
This was the screamer in the Grauniad the other day, inviting us, among other things, to buy into the notion that 1 in 3 young persons has mental problems. No surveys, no peer-reviewed statistics, nothing evidential whatsoever to support this claim. And no definition of “mental problems”, whether these be, on the serious end, depression or anorexia; and on the other, worrying about acne, your breath when you’re snogging, or if a tough teacher you’ve just been placed with is going to insist you work hard all term for a change.
With anything but disrespect to adolescents (and I suspect this is the age range where they’re largely deemed to be, all these problems, though again we’re not told) I look at this kind of article with a very jaundiced eye. I was a stroppy and insecure teenager myself, worrying now about school (mostly), now about girls (where? how?), now about my lack of inches (why?), now about the strained relations between my parents (wonderful!!). I was awful. But had anyone suggested that I had mental problems both I and everyone else would have laughed aloud, for this is how these rites of passage for adolescents have always been, not merely in this and the last centuries but probably since Piltdown Man at least.
Underneath this from the columnist: “I spoke to young people up and down the country who told me they felt consistently let down by parents, teachers and healthcare professionals who wrote off their symptoms or failed to take action to prevent distress” (a distinct feel of cherry-picking here) were some interesting btl comments such as: “See, this IS adolescence, isn’t it? < I’m about to become an adult, and how do I do that? How will it be? Can I cope? Will I cope? Is nobody going to come and make me feel better as an adult? How will my distress be alleviated? Everyone is letting me down!>”. Heard that before? Remember saying it yourself? Well, you were mentally ill. Allegedly.
And: “Teenagerdom is dark. That’s why they used to listen to dark music, take drugs, bitch about their parents, become goths, get f**ked off with everybody, rage against the system, write bad poetry, feel alienated and alone and different. This was annoying to adults; but it was good for teenagers. It helped them to become adults. They also used to also be convinced they were the only ones feeling this way.” But you kept it to yourself, chewed it all over with a couple of equally pissed-off mates , made your parents’ lives more or less hell, smoked illicitly, drank as much alcohol as you could steal (woefully little in my case), tried to get your end away (also woefully little in my case), masturbated till your wrist was numb (no comment AT ALL), and emerged around 20 feeling, generally, like a train that’s left a long deep cutting (NOT a tunnel).
That’s what teenagers used to do anyway – now they have “mental health problems”. It’s the New Talking Point for the Chattering Classes. It’s all become externalised, mirroring each other on the internet, diagnosing themselves publicly, vying with each other for attention, who’s maddest?? Then ultimately the uncertainty of hormones galloping round the blood vessels, the unmissable embarrassing body-changes, the angst of not knowing wtf you are becoming ….all this becomes, for people such as the columnist (very well respected in her field), neatly medicalised and compartmentalised. Feeling miserable laddie?You’re mentally ill. Sorry, young lady, there’s nowhere to give you the necessary long-term treatment you and apparently up to one third of adolescents “need”. And it’s the government’s fault. As always.
Even the Beach Boys, for all their eternal youthful bounce and sunshine, reveal a bleaker and uncertain edge at times:
There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to.
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears,
Do my dreaming and my scheming,
Lie awake and pray;
Do my crying and my sighing,
Laugh at yesterday.
(In my Room)
Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older.
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.
Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true…
(Wouldn’t It Be Nice)
Or all the questions full of doubts and worries for the future in “When I Grow up to Be a Man” of which these are just some:
Now I’m young and free, but how will it be
When I grow up to be a man?..
Will my kids be proud or think their old man is really a square?
When they’re out having fun yeah, will I still wanna have my share?
Will I love my wife for the rest of my life
When I grow up to be a man?
No, I’m not deriding the adolescent fears for the future, the uncertainties, the spots, the fuzz-sprouting chins, the puppy fat, the argumentativeness, the onset of fertility, the sheer blazing lust (if only), the frustration over this and much else…Jesus no, I wouldn’t want to endure that again, no sirree Bob. But let’s keep a sense of proportion, please. Mentally ill? Or perfectly normally temporarily abnormal? Anti-government fodder, or mostly tiresome but generally good youngsters growing up with difficulty, uncertain who they are or will be, like those of centuries past across the globe?
You know which makes sense.
( And we know how this young man turned out…)