Increasing Mental Health Issues - are they real, or are we too sensitive?

We are the generation which normalised poor mental health. About time.

Increasing Mental Health Issues - are they real, or are we too sensitive?
Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Are mental health issues really on the rise? Some would argue that, statistically, yes they are, on the basis that Gen-Z Snowflakes are too easily upset and too ready to ‘identify’ with whatever personality or issue they choose. They lack the definitive British resilience, the Stiff Upper Lip, the Keep Calm and Carry On mentality.

According to mental health charity, Mind, one in four people in the UK experience a problem with their mental health each year. In England, it is one in six. In 2014, 19.7% of those aged over 16 were showing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and most of these were young people (Mental Health Foundation, 2016). At my university alone, thirteen students committed suicide in three years. As a twenty-three-year-old who has recently been diagnosed with depression, I fit right into this statistic, so it’s got me thinking. Why is it that mental health issues are so prevalent in my those at my stage of life?

Firstly, I truly believe that Gen-Z’s sensitivity is revealing what has always been there. The generations before us who maintained the proverbial Stiff Upper Lip were not necessarily happy behind it. Just because poor mental health wasn’t talked about doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It is true that people my age, on the whole, are more accepting, more ready to discuss real issues and to celebrate difference. We have the LGBTQ+ movement, the #UOKM8? And #HereForYou campaigns to prove it. We are fortunate to live in such a time where we can speak out about what we are facing, and not be told simply to ‘cheer up’. Perhaps this is why the concept of ubiquitous poor mental health seems so alien to our parents and grandparents, who perhaps didn’t have such widespread awareness and understanding of common problems such as eating disorders, anxiety and depression. To illustrate this with an example; a hundred years ago, people with epilepsy were thrown into asylums as fits were thought to show a mental fault. That was not so very long ago when we remember this was the time of our great-grandparents. It is only now that society is beginning to develop a true knowledge and understanding of what it means to maintain good mental health.

I highly doubt that, had I been born in the 1950’s, that I would have received a diagnosis for depression, nor would several of my friends. But there is also an argument to be made for the case that perhaps we wouldn’t have needed one in the first place. It is true that we struggle to switch off nowadays. All our work is online, so our work always comes home with us. We can contact and be contacted 24/7. We constantly know what our friends are doing as a result of watching their life stories on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Our awareness of what our friends are up to is so acute that we can even analyse people’s messaging habits. ‘He was active five minutes ago but hasn’t replied to the message I sent this afternoon!’ – communication anxiety is becoming very real, and it is damaging.

Young people today exist in an increasingly competitive society. More of us go on to receive higher education. More of us believe we are entitled to higher-end jobs as a result. More of us can see how well everyone we know is doing, what they’re wearing, who their friends are, what they’re eating, where they live. We bombard ourselves with information and comparison to the point that it is suffocating. It’s no surprise that in the light of this, our mental states are prone to going awry.

So, yes, it is apparent that cases of mental ill-health are on the rise, and given the nature of our lives today this is not extraordinary. What is extraordinary, however, is the fact that mental health had so little prevalence and understanding in the past (compared with today). With no indication of life slowing down for us, I can only hope that today’s acceptance and positivity surrounding these problems continues to grow so that we may combat the inevitable for ourselves and future generations.

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Diana Osborne
See all posts by Diana Osborne