World Mental Health Day is an annual opportunity for people to share their experience of mental health, and a reason to bring up the topic with colleagues, friends and loved ones. This year’s theme is ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’… and it really got me thinking about the mental health challenges that lie ahead for my younger brother and sister, aged 14 and 10 respectively.
My journey with my mental health as a young person was largely influenced by my indulgence and addiction to the eating disorder that is bulimia. I’ve written more about that journey in another post. My bulimia was largely rooted in comparison to my peers. My peers that were in front of me… in real life. I honestly cannot begin to imagine just quite how much more I could have harmed myself if I was also exposed to the damning effects of comparison to peers that I didn’t even know on the internet. But this is the reality for young adults these days… even my 10 year old sister who has an Instagram account is being met with the body ideals and luxury lifestyles (that are largely unattainable) every day when she gets home from school and opens these apps to chat to her friends.
And lets talk about anxiety. I was largely socially anxious (when talking to people I didn’t know, or putting myself in social situations that took me outside of my comfort zone). And yet… we expect the young adults of today to be socially adept despite most of their communication taking place over email, messenger, whatsapp. How can we expect these young adults to develop real-time face-to-face confidence in dealing with new encounters?
We have a responsibility as adults to look after the young people that we know.
We have a responsibility to look out for changes in behaviour, warning signs, low moods and erratic behaviour and offer these children a safe space to be honest about what is really going on for them.
But beyond that…
We have a responsibility to be watchful of the words that we use… particularly when talking about ourselves. No longer will I critique my body in front of my darling 10 year old sister, and no longer will I return the “bants” that my 14 year old brother gives me… because I know how much one playful insult can play on a teenagers mind.
We have a responsibility to be mindful of the content that we post. There should be no “one SHOULD do this, to achieve this body”, or “one SHOULD do this to have a large group of friends”. Let’s be a little bit more authentic and real about what goes on in adulthood so that these bright young people don’t have the wrong expectation of what a relationship or career looks like.
We have a responsibility to bring up these children with empathy and to discourage any unkindness in their words and behaviour. Showing these young adults love and acceptance will help them to do the same for their peers too. And god knows we need more acceptance.
I think that what I’m trying to get at is that yes, the NHS services are struggling to meet the demands of children and young adults, and the mental health services are buckling under the weight of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and so many more struggles. BUT, what is actually going to have more impact on young people is what they are met with on a day to day basis. From their parents, older siblings, family friends, teachers.
We all have a responsibility to look after the mental health of the young people we know.