(photo credit: http://www.healthyvalleys.org.uk)
According to The Sunday Times yesterday Britain's top private schools are facing a mental health crisis. Although the figures quoted came from a survey of 65 private schools this is a nationwide problem for our young people irrespective of educational backgrounds.
In fact, mental health is, I believe, the one most pressing issue affecting young people and the issue which if not addressed could see our children suffering in epidemic proportions. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harming have now become so commonplace amongst our children and young adults that we parents almost expect it to be the case of "when" not "if " our child suffers from one or more of these conditions.
Of course we must tackle physical health issues in young people - particularly obsesity which is so damaging to children's future health prospects - but it is time that we put mental health issues in young people on an equal footing in terms of importance. Mental health issues are largely hidden and still to some extent stigmatised and it is this that we must tackle urgently. Any shame that we might have felt or our parents' generation felt about admitting to mental health issues or any suggestion that mental health issues are a sign of weakness must be eradicated if we are to prevent a crisis amongst our young people.
We have to take some responsibility for what we are creating in mental health terms. It is our technological advances that have paved the way for an ever more complicated and pressurised life for our young people. Constantly being bombarded by images of success, perceived beauty and the false perfection portrayed of others lives on social media put intolerable pressures on young people and a completely unattainable expectation of who they should be and become. Couple this with the isolation that so many young people feel and you have a perfect storm for mental health issues to occur. It is ironic that our young people who are constantly connected through social media, tablets, phones etc are in fact probably feeling one of the most disconnected generations in history.
The disintegration of multi-generational families is pushing our children further into the dangerous territory where mental health problems lurk. There is no doubt that life in the 21st century is, if not necessarily physically harsh, definitely mentally stressful and in many cases a lack of family support increases the feelings of isolation. All children and young people need someone to fight their corner, to give unconditional love and support and without this they are surely more vulnerable to mental health issues?
As someone who has battled anxiety from a young age and who is an absolute master at disguising to the outside world what is really going on in my mind, I am constantly watching out for any indications that my children are going down that same path. I'm sure that genetic predispositions to some mental health issues mean that it is not always possible to prevent their occurrence but I do know that early recognition and intervention are crucial to tackling mental issues successfully.
I don't know what the answer is but I do know that this is an urgent situation that needs addressing now before it worsens further. It shouldn't be the norm for our children to suffer from mental health issues - that is not an acceptable state of affairs. Life now is stressful and complicated but many of these stresses and strains we have ourselves created and so it is our responsibility to help our children to navigate their way through the pressures and find a sense of balance for their adult lives. We must not accept the inevitability of mental health issues and sit by and watch them take hold in our young people. We must help them to cope with the pressures and be open with us about feelings and emotions. I know, from personal experience, that mental health issues are not companions you want to carry with you throughout your adult life and there is absolutely no shame in putting your hand up and admitting you are struggling - it is not a sign of weakness - no, quite the opposite, it is a sign of strength and our young people need to know this.