Editor | Cassandra Lau
World Mental Health Day takes place on 10 October each year to encourage “all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide”. It also creates a platform for greater awareness and understanding towards mental health.
With ever increasing populations, competition and changing demographics, the discussion of mental health in a changing world has been under constant examination: from diving into the impact of cultural diversity to investigating mental health in the workplace, it is evident that mental health permeates through all socio-geographical boundaries. This year’s theme – ‘young people and mental health in a change world‘ – looks into how mental resilience can be built at an earlier stage to help prevent mental distress and illness rather than where such issues exist.
Adolescence is a time of constant change and uncertainty. In an era of competition, technology and information, the young adult must also take puberty, university, grades, moving away from home, job hunting, and so forth into account which can be incredibly stressful. For some, the burden weighs more heavily than others, this can be due to a range of personal and social factors, and arguably, we all have a duty to those around us as well as ourselves to be accepting and understanding.
Whether you are a fellow student struggling to comprehend where and how mental health amongst your peers exist, or a parent or teacher hoping to gain some insight into mental health amongst the younger generation, here are some things about young people and mental health in a changing world.
Population Growth and Competition
According to the United Nations, in 1950, the world population was estimated at around 2.6 billion people and later 6 billion by 1999; today, the world population exceeds 7.63 billion people and this number is expected to increase each day. The significant growth in world population, in terms of figures, partly owes to the increased use and reliability of technology to help document births and deaths more readily but more so to the increased average lifespan due to better quality of life and, medical advancements. According to The World Counts and World Meters there are approximately 7, 618, 723, 700 people in the world right now – 7, 618, 724, 000 by the time I finish writing this article – making the global population about 200,000 people larger than yesterday.
In a world that pivots around supply and demand, the more may not necessarily allude to the merrier as it means the rise in competition add stress to young adults: the pressure to do better than the average mass in standardised tests; the pressure to get into university; the pressure of getting a job; the pressure of earning more money; the pressure to afford a comfortable life. As there is little we can do to relieve such globally inflicted pressures, it is important for young adults to be equipped and prepared to take on such pressures.
The human brain is highly plastic, implying that the structure can easily be reshaped over time. UCLA researches found that frequent web-users displayed fundamentally different neural structures to novice users, and that beginners of the web began showing similar changes after only five hours of internet use over the period of one week. Based on Nicholas G. Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (2010), research suggests that technology is changing the way our brains are wired. The excessive use of technology affects the frontal lobe – used for planning, prioritising, organising and controlling impulses -, the stratum – used for suppressing socially unacceptable impulses -, and the insula which manages the individual’s capacity for empathy and compassion. Long story short, the brain is affected due to the change in which we process information. So-called traditional reading methods with books and newspapers prompt concentration and creativity whilst online reader with phones, tablets and laptops allows for information to be scan and skimmed quickly. This ultimately leads to (1) Shorter attention spans; (2) Reduced capacity for some types of memory; (3) Reduced capacity for innovative thinking. This is especially the case for young children which explains why a greater number of adolescents suffer from mental health illnesses. It is important to tackle it at an early stage because later, the list of problems will only snowball: one day you find yourself incapable of reading through an article, and the next thing you know, you are robbed of sleep, ability to work, sexual drive and communication and subsequently relationships.
Surveillance & Expectations
The more straightforward impact of technology is the 24/7 operating social media platform. Through such mediums as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc, the individual is under constant surveillance and scrutiny: as if peer pressure at school isn’t sufficient, social media platforms force individuals to show case how they wish to be perceived and in turn observe how glamorous and flawless other people’s lives seem to be. And this is only the tip of the iceberg: the psychological impacts of insecurity, lack of self-esteem and self-worth can lead to deeper, more long-term and permanent issues mental illness and disorders.
The power and influence social media has on young minds is often underrated as many critics brush it off, advising young adults, ‘The number of likes and followers does not define you’, or ‘The number of connections does not define whether you’ll be successful in your career.” However, cyber pressure and bullying cuts deep into the individual, and if left unresolved could lead to psychological imbalances.
The access to tragedies and conflicts around the world take its toll on many of us. With increased access to information via travelling and the media, previously distant events become something personal – something that may have happened thousands of miles away suddenly manifests itself within the confines of our personal space like our bedrooms.
Literature throughout the Industrial Revolution accurately depict this feeling as increased mobility allowed for people to venture across oceans to see the poor, the savage and uncivilised. One particularly striking passage is from Herman Melville’s Redburn (1849):
“I stood looking down on them, while my whole soul swelled within me; and I asked myself, What right had any body in the wide world to smile and be glad, when sights like this were to be seen?”