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 In the education area, a deadly concoction of; time poor status, a lack of awareness and/or care, as well as outdated practice has contributed to unprecedented levels of mental illness amongst our youth.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