The rise in mental illnesses amongst the youth is something that needs immediate attention
As a practising counselor, on an average of every 10 cases that I consult, six are of students across the tender age of 14-24, suffering from depression, anxiety, mood disturbances and low self-esteem. The age group not so long ago, was 35-45+ years.
There are no straightforward answers as to why people develop anxiety or depression and feel low, as the trigger for everyone is personal and there are many factors both internal and external, family dynamics, immediate environment, school experience, academics, innate personality types, and so on that can make or break our psychological well being.
Also, the biggest myth with respect to mental illness is that, ‘This cannot happen to me!’ Unfortunately, the illness does not follow a pattern or occur only in a specific class, caste, community or belong to the privileged or under-privileged strata nor is it only amongst the educated or uneducated section of society. Anyone of us, are equally vulnerable to becoming affected.
The stigma around mental health, counselors, therapists and psychiatrists, makes it so difficult sometimes, even for well-informed clients, to get the help that they need. Celebrities too are at a loss of proactively fixing their issues and soliciting help and many times take some drastic measures to cope with their problems with substance abuse, self harm and so on.
Anxiety is quite common and can be a part of our everyday life. However, when it is long-lasting and interferes with one’s daily functionality, it becomes a problem. Today, it is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions, and a large portion of the students, sadly have it. Sometimes, they also have depression with it, which makes it more miserable for them.
It typically seems like a hopeless feeling in the pit of your stomach, not allowing you to do and be your best. Clients report that they make plans with their peers and almost always ‘chicken out’, feel lonely, experience an overwhelming feeling of being low on self-confidence and self-image, and cannot hold onto strong friendships. They feel incapable, sad, or useless, with no drive, empty, stuck and lack the sense of purpose and meaning. Imagine feeling this way at the prime of your life, at crossroads of an educational course trying hard to stay functional and afloat but living a dual life.
Sometimes, it is the pathology but often, it is the underlying irrational beliefs that they silently nurture about themselves — such as, ‘I need to be the best’, ‘ I am not worth it’, ‘I have always failed’, “I am not good enough’, ‘I don’t deserve to be successful’, ‘I cannot be loved’. They are impatient, however work extra hours and are anything but kind to themselves. They are certainly not able to highlight, or bask in the glory of all their scholastic achievements. The issue is that these are young adults who are infact, doing well in their courses and have excellent academic grades who not only doubt their capabilities but also believe that they are not special and cannot be perfect.
What if one relationship breaks, someone you trust lets you down? Or if someone you hold in high esteem and respect makes you feel not good enough? Does it warrant you to indulge in self-harm, overdose on pills or take your life away?
Root of the problem
Where is this entire pressure stemming from? The need to reach a certain ‘level’, be a certain ‘someone’, in a certain ‘way’. It is almost like they are being churned out in an assembly line and we cannot have a wrong piece in the mass packaging unit. The pressure to perform, do well, to get accepted, to make no mistakes, have no failures, be the star performer is almost insane that it is making these young adults fall sick.
What is their scope really, and the deliverables of someone in the range of 14-24 years of age?
- To stay academically stable in an average bell curve
- Turn in good assignments, papers with substance that is reflective of their own thoughts and ideas
- Making a few meaningful friendships and relationships through their student life.
- Finding a sense of purpose, joy and happiness in the college experience that they signed up for, thereby identifying a course for further education or moving to a career path that they choose for themselves.
- Appreciate and love themselves for who they have become at the end of their student life
- Connect once again with families and loved ones
- Stay away from addictive substances and toxic relationships that erode their self-esteem and confidence
- Develop a healthy coexistence with the opposite gender
- Deal with failure and stay undeterred
Is that such a tall ask, I often wonder?
What would it take for them to nurture themselves? Develop a keen hobby, an interest away from academic pursuits and spend some ‘me-time’ on their own? Be actively involved in some form of a sport and exercise on a daily basis, irrespective of the academic demands, being aware that every problem has a minimum of two solutions and that, one needs to have the courage to decide what option you choose by evaluating the consequences of the same.
Can we, as caring adults, be less expectant of them? Let them live and build their own lives without us pressurising them to conform and be our prizes. Love them unconditionally and be empathic of their struggles and failures. They all have their own paths and will eventually make a name for themselves. Trust them and let them define their own journeys.
The author is a practising counsellor and a trainer.