Mental health; as hot a topic it is, is still being ignored throughout many sectors of society. In the education area, a deadly concoction of; time poor status, a lack of awareness and/or care, as well as outdated practice has contributed to unprecedented levels of mental illness amongst our youth. In an ever-growing world of self-obsession and stigma, eventually something has to give when on this journey to comparative perfection. Sadly, as the statistics show, suicide's ascent is the hefty price we are paying. For the second time this year, a rock super star (first, legend Chris Cornell), this time Linkin Park frontman, Chester Bennington, took their own life after a long battle with depression, drugs and alcohol and the remnants of what it takes to upkeep the persona of a hard ass rockstar.
In times gone by, “she’ll be right” was a common term used to brush off seemingly minor incidents of mistreatment, awkward social blemishes and even took place when a clear lack of resilience was present. Now, with the ‘Generation Me’ in full swing, necessary social skills; including empathy, respect and resilience, cannot be called upon to cope with this type of catchphrase. Educators and parents are finding it difficult to connect and relate, so what are we to do when our society is still trying to sweep this issue under the carpet and news of more deaths are becoming quite overwhelming? The matter surrounding social welfare and its link to a strong media presence is alarming. The reality is, our youth, for the most, is more developed in their usage of social media than their senior counterparts (including their parents and teachers) yet do not have essential filters to readily put to work when recklessly operating devices and communication platforms. Couple this with the aforementioned lack of awareness from their mentors and resilience, the “she’ll be right”- notion is certainly inapt; if at all effective at any time in the past.
So many issues to grasp in one blog; stigma, personality type, support networks, educating people, the list goes on but first, let’s delve into some statistics.
Here in Australia, an increasing amount of pressure is put on our kids to outperform. Outperform their parents, siblings and their peers, essentially throwing them into the realms of anxiety and surplus stress. The pressure we, especially as kids, put on ourselves is more than enough and, once more, without the necessary skills or networks of support, the underdeveloped resilience begins to wear thin. We have all heard children make huge claims about their future, “I want to be a pop star when I grow up” or “When I’m older, I want to be a famous designer”. Although these dreams are more than likely out of reach, the people around certainly make sure it is common knowledge it is indeed, nearing impossible. Despite being more or less a bit of fun for the people involved in these types of conversations, it is subconsciously building an “I’m not good enough” foundation and by the time kids hit adolescence, outside pressures exacerbate this mentality for our poor kids. “Yeah, right. We tell our kids they have their head in the clouds and it’s our fault they are fragile?” you may be cynically questioning? Most probably, yes. After years of damaging instances where children are told they are not good enough, the pressure takes a toll. In a recent study of bullying and external pressures, conducted by Mission Australia, findings expose a nasty insignia on our country’s escalating mental health battle. One in three children are severely damaged by the torments and incessant patronisation of their teachers, siblings and, second most commonly, their parents. Fact. It is one of the highest associates for mental illness trauma amongst our youth today. “She’ll be right though; my kids are tough”. And the cycle continues. The biggest influence, perhaps obvious, is the peers. Startling, being the rate in which severe episodes of depression and even suicides have risen. In ten years, the average youth (15 years to 24 years of age) suicide rate has risen 43% and shockingly, the BeyondBlue organisation have revealed recently a 6.7% rise in some form of mental illness in teens, now up to a staggering 28.9%. That’s nearly one in three. Well documented is the cyber bullying movement as we enter a world of connectedness (without the essential medicine for being connected: physicality) but most alarming is the statistics lending us a view that more damaging is the disorders surrounding body dysmorphia; leading us to question the true progression of our tech savvy world completely. “She’ll be right, I’ve blocked the kids’ access after nine o’clock” or “she’ll be right, I have access and can see what my child is up to” are probably self-affirmations circling around in your mind. “She’ll be right” just doesn’t cut it anymore! At the end of the day, technology has brought these heinous issues to the fore without the need for verbal and physical exposure, for our worlds can operate from within the confines of our palm.
Girls are more likely to suffer; showing both symptoms of and expressing emotional distraught. This shows us two things; one, there is still a divide in the manner in which our genders are dealing with stress and the way in which we, as a society, put pressure on young women compared to our boys. This is creating stigmas that should’ve been long eradicated. And two; young boys and men are still taking a back-seat ride on this rollercoaster of mental health. The reality is, girls are naturally seen as more emotional beings, their hormones operate differently, we know this. It does though, impart a hand to the stigma that boys and men, need to be strong all the time. In a world of rapid change, voices are more heard but, unfortunately, the actions which have been forecasted to follow have laid dormant and still fester unwillingly, allowing more and more good men to perish. A recent report in The Independent newspaper (England) concluded that in the western world, the past 25 years have seen a whopping 25% rise in depression in young men. To me, this is both positive and negative. Negative for the obvious reasons but positive because clearly more men who were discreetly suffering a quarter of a century ago have now broken the shackles of silence. There are positives in progress here too. My take is that the rise in the openness of this illness has led to such a dramatic upward spiral in that statistic.
As a kid, I used the “she’ll be right” phrase too. I inherently made an effort to mimic my role models; whether on the sporting fields, in the club rooms, the classroom or at home. Children are so impressionable and although, “she’ll be right”, has lost its prominence, its implications are still as harsh as ever. More than ever kids need positive role models, leaders and carers. “She’ll be right”, works when things are travelling well, meaning:
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen for all, if any of us; things change, people make mistakes and life will throw arrows at us once in a while. So, who will show our youth that this is normal and that talking about our feelings is ok? Who will be the positive model for care, nurturance and resilience? It’s important to note, we are not trying to stop our kids from developing coping skills independently. We get it; we all need to wing it out there on our own from time to time, it’s character building. We are trying to save our kids from feeling uneasy, alone and isolated. From feeling as if they are the only person in the world who hurts like that, not knowing they have ample support. This is the hardest part of having to act strong; you think everyone else is just that, strong. Opening lines of communication and creating networks that relinquish the strangle hold of mental isolation has to be prioritised; in schools, clubs and at home.
Thankfully there’s hope, we are lucky to have many working towards a world where even one suicide is too many. In recent times, I have been lucky enough to meet one exceptional woman. Her story is one of despair and yet exemplifies hope and triumph. Claire Eardley is heroic in my eyes and her thrust forward into her pioneer status is not too dissimilar to several before her.
Just over twelve months ago, her middle son, Kai, fell victim to the demons of mental illness and took his own life. The nightmare of every mother or father had changed her life in a moment. Though affecting so many people in the immediate community, Kai’s death brought out one special human, his mum. From the rubble, she has sought to change the world for those that still have hope for their own child suffering. She has radicalised my, and her community’s, understanding and perception of what real help is. Raising money is important, this she has done with purpose and honour, but Claire has raised something else. Status. The status of mental health in society. It has been hidden away for too long and her actions since her son’s passing have given a colourful light on such a sullen yet common situation. Claire has started to transform the, “she’ll be right”, to the “we’ll be ok. Together, we’ll get through this”. Eventually, she hopes to bring about open workshops to our youth, particularly young men, helping discover the real benefits of open and honest communication, feelings and, perhaps most importantly, what it actually takes to be a real man. I am so proud to be associated with Claire and encourage us all to promote the conversations of mental health and model conducive relationships; built on respect, trust and confidence. Change our mindset on mental illness and we can literally save lives. “She’ll be right” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Change your thinking, change the world.
Timothy Bristow ~ author ~ Billy The Brilliant & I’m The Best
For more information on the Kai Eardley Fund, please visit:
Timothy Bristow is the JustZeusBooks resident author and an inspiring teacher.
His first children’s book, Billy The Brilliant, covers sensitive issues such as loss, death and the all empowering gift of resilience. It promotes supportive relationships in the hope of creating a little bit of magic in each and every reader’s life.
Dreams, like rainbows exist; only out of reach until you find the courage to chase them.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Pride, noted as one of the Seven Deadly Sins: “refers to a foolishly and irrationally corrupt sense of one's personal value, status or accomplishments”.
I started writing this sitting in the Dubai Airport in January. Something about the way I sat in abhorrent judgment at the overindulgence in technology in that place made me rethink the blog I was about to write. Then, without thinking, I closed the lid of my laptop and sat and observed. To sit on a device, in front of a screen and catechise the flaws of our technology-infatuated society would not only be conflicting in that time and place, it would most likely be futile. To grasp at an issue everyone already knows we have with a cynical eye and no real purpose would be remiss of me. No one needs to hear more facts about the damage; physically, emotionally and/or psychologically social media and its addictive tendencies are inflicting upon us. No one needs another rant about the injustice of keyboard warriors. So, what was I to do? I thought for some time. Eureka! I shall Shed some light on what all this is doing from our kids’ perspective, that’s what.
For those who have read my earlier blog, (The Reward in Asking a Child), there is a skill very underrated and more needed now than ever before; the ability to seek answers from those beneath us, the front-line warriors in this social media frenzy, our kids. They see, hear and fall victim to this techno problem each and every day; its addiction, its worship and perhaps most importantly, its torment. The average child today, in Australia, engages with their phone nine times an hour. Yep, that’s right, not just looks at the home screen to check the time, unlocks their device and scrolls through apps, threads and messages, nine times an hour! This, to me, and I’m sure to you, is staggering. I mean, they have school, after school curricular activity and sleep to be attended to, so how can this number be an average? If many hours sleeping and at school mean phones can go unattended for long periods of time, our children’s waking hours must enrol and fester upon a nasty habit to disreputable extremes.
So, I sat in this Dubai Airport terminal lounge and just watched. Adults and children alike stared at screens; they swiped, clicked and then locked them, put them in their pockets and, as if on repeat, duplicated this action like clockwork. It was bordering insanity and actually quite comical to watch. If you get a chance, try this at a train station or in a public space; bar, mall or supermarket. You will sit and simply shake your head. What is the appeal of it? Ten years ago, Facebook was just an idea in a university dorm room, Snap Chat was a sleazy and hormonal adolescent’s day dream and being on gaming devices or phones in public was considered impolite or actions only incessant babies or business gurus would flaunt. But there I sat and then got up and roamed, peeking at what we were all actually doing. I didn’t need to sneak, look inconspicuous or even come from around corners, I simply wondered up and down the aisles of this lounge as if a ghost. Heck, I even called over to my partner once or twice, of course, going unnoticed by our addicts. This little experience, or should I say, experiment was becoming quite a fun way to pass the time. Most, if not all, were on social media. A social experiment was needed, I thought to myself. These people were complete strangers, therefore acting as a random sampling of the general public of the western world and their participation was completely voluntary - I mean, this is what they were doing anyway. This was after all the common, everyday human in its newly adapted habitat; “The Bubble”, I proclaimed. This imaginary dome we take anywhere and everywhere with us, somehow makes us invincible. That same bubble allows us to speak our minds without opening our mouths, the one that ensures we know the ins and outs of others’ minds, without having to come into contact and, most damaging, the one that lets us shoot from afar yet land blows where it hurts most.
Like any good social experiment, it needed a purpose. The question I wanted to pose was, ‘why are we all so pressured by this device haven, this social media hub? And why does an addiction to it seemingly help feed our pride? I immersed myself in it and would later seek credible sources of evidence to back my claims and hypothesis. Only then could I conclude.
Skip forward again, to now. Last week, I caught up with my credible sources and listened. Directly from the horses’ mouths, I thought. The adolescents. They were after all the most formidable in their bubbles. Here, I had a perfect selection; ‘the immersed’, ‘the fence sitter’ and ‘the rejecter’. Firstly, the immersed. This adolescent sat chatting about it all with a certain confidence, regularly checking the device and giving great insight into what this addiction is really about. Then came the fence sitter, the one who had been subconsciously pressured into it. Without knowing, this adolescent was caught feeling lonely, left out and even anxious without it – an astonishing piece of conclusive evidence in itself. Lastly was the traditional adolescent; cynical, careless and aloof by the tech progression of the generation tagged, The Millennials. Without even having to pursue further, I found an answer to one, if not both of my aforementioned questions. Primarily, not all children are obsessed or overawed by this, ‘bubble’ and furthermore, like the days of past, all kids are still kids. Yes, there is more exposure now and, perhaps, more pressure but the overwhelming piece of noteworthy concluding was yet to come. To further my previously stated blog’s worth, kids make great decisions. They are insightful and need to be heard. These children were able to open the door into the world of the ‘bubble’ and explain so much more than our qualified pundits and specialised scholars. A prodigious amount of knowledge comes from within these adolescent’s minds, and most conversed roads led to one thing, pride. Our ‘bubbles’ give us an all-conquering and undeniable amount of status.
Why do we seek acceptance so much? Well, it is human nature. The Bubble has allowed us to seek it in an imaginary setting whilst living it in reality. “Some kids write incriminating things or pose in weird ways to attract unnecessary attention” one of my sources noted. “Heaps of kids will delete posts if not enough likes are rewarded” another informs. “I don’t get it! It’s so ridiculous!”, my last and most cynical informant proclaims. These statements allowed me to gather necessary insight to why this bubble does exist. In times gone by, we would look at magazines, watch television and search the internet for that image or style which we could relate, even conform to but we never had a platform to replicate and promote it like today. Making mistakes in the choice of packet hair dye or accessory worn was social suicide before, now a quick swipe can achieve the look from the safety of your bubble. A quick filter never hurt anyone, right? If it doesn’t work, another swipe and it’s gone. What I found most alarming was what my ‘immersed’ informant added next. “Everyone thinks it’s a game. Whether ‘I wanna’ kill myself’, ‘you’re a slut’ or ‘ F*%# You!’ is being said, no one thinks about the effects. It’s stupid really”. We are obsessed with image, possessions and status. We are narcissistic beings promoting selfish, self-loathing and patronising beings. How do these kids have a chance? Is there any genuine support for our youth, which they can actually relate to? A great mentor once said to me, “Every action is seeking a reaction. What is yours?” I never fully understood it; I thought he was talking about bullies or underprivileged students. But now I know what he meant. People know what is right and wrong but that doesn’t matter if it’s not normal. If the right was the norm, more would conform and hence, do it. We seek to be accepted, not humble, not caring or kind, just accepted. The “ME” generation is only existent if we allow it to be. I'm all for being different but this bubble is creating more monsters that it's worth.
Let’s put down our devices, converse and concur. Let’s appreciate what and who we stand for, who we stand with. Let’s be all empowering and tell someone they look spectacular in something they “just threw on” or how amazing they are, the way they are. We don’t need to harp on about the pressures of image, conformity and complete domination, just chat and share our insecurities. Listen to each other, then celebrate being open and honest, being you! My little experiment ends with this conclusion:
My action is to write this blog; I’m not spruiking my world-beating theory on change or shovelling my own credentials in your face. I’m here to promote, it’s ok to be you. The reaction? Well, that’s entirely up to you!