Some experts believe that the mental health of young people in Britain today is in crisis. Along with the rise of social media and societal pressures on young people, has come the rise of serious mental illness in the UK.
Mental health is complex and cannot easily be explained. It can be both heart and mind-breaking. Depression can make you feel purposeless, emotionless and insignificant, like life is just a monotonous cycle of childhood, adolescence, adulthood, retirement and then death. In your darkest and loneliest nights, depression engulfs the brain and poses the question, ‘if life is so pointless, why wait 60 years to die? – Just aimlessly ambling through life with no ambitions or motivation to achieve anything along the way. Depression has the control to brainwash and encapsulate the mind, and can change the person you believe yourself to be, leaving you at a total loss of who you really are. It can destroy relationships and friendships, and along with them, any hope of finding a purpose in life.
“‘ ChildLine reported over 50,000 cases of children and young people turning to them for support with serious mental health problems”
On the most part, it is believed that young people’s lives are improving. A record number of young people are being accepted into universities every year, and teen pregnancy rates are the lowest they have been in nearly half a century. However, despite this, the number of young people suffering from mental illness is rapidly increasing. Last year, ChildLine reported over 50,000 cases of children and young people turning to them for support with serious mental health problems – a rise of 8% over the last four years. So, what is it that is causing such an increase in mental illness amongst young people?
Research conducted by the department of Health and Human Services in 2015, showed that rates of depression amongst girls, is more than double that of boys. This may be down to the fact that cyber-bullying is much more prevalent within groups of girls, which leads us to conclude that social media could be to blame for the current mental health epidemic. Many school teachers claim to have noticed malicious behaviour via social media sites like Instagram, and have observed an influx in the number of children self-harming and suffering from issues like anxiety as a likely result of this. Teen counsellor, Natalie Trowell believes that “young people are exposed to unrealistic body image” and “a warped version of life” on social media and this can create an unsafe environment. She feels that “young people are almost encouraged to share everything online, but then leave themselves open to criticism,” which can significantly contribute to body insecurities and mental health issues.
However, some experts believe that the increase in mental health problems in the UK is not due to a fault within society but is rather that doctors have started to over-diagnose patients, so it is much easier to ‘qualify’ for a mental illness now than it has been in the past. Over-diagnosis and unnecessary medicating can actually have adverse effects. Research has shown that with a variety of anti-depressant drugs, medicating patients unnecessarily can cause them to become chronically ill in the long term, further fuelling the mental health outbreak.
But why are doctors over-diagnosing people? In recent years, the stigma attached to discussing the topic of mental health issues has significantly decreased, and it is now seen as a much less taboo subject than it was even ten years ago. With celebrities such as Steven Fry, Carrie Fisher and Kate Middleton speaking openly about mental illness, there is a much greater awareness than there ever used to be, and so young people can feel more at ease speaking about it. This implies that mental illness is not necessarily more common than it used to be, but more people are seeking help as they are less afraid to speak out.
However, Mental Health Social Worker, Jacqueline Milligan, believes that the most frequent issues are “related to a person’s development and if they have experienced trauma in their early years.” This suggests that the root cause of the issue stems from a time before social media has become so prevalent in a person’s life. She feels it also depends on “the young person’s coping skills and ability to deal with stress during exams or with relationships,” which could be down to genetic reasons.
Dr Nihara Krause, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Stem4, believes that there are a vast range of vulnerability factors which can affect a person’s mental health including “genetic, biological, trauma related, personality, brain development and physical factors, familial factors and cultural factors, including youth culture and environmental factors which include acute stress.” Taking these factors into consideration, it seems that mental illness can be triggered by so many different factors, no matter how vast or minute, so we simply cannot pin the blame on one particular variable.