Children’s mental health week serves as a poignant reminder of the critical importance of addressing the mental well-being of young individuals in today’s fast-paced and interconnected world. Lee Hawker-Lecesne, MBPsS, clinical director at The Cabin, Asia’s premier rehabilitation center with over 50 years of clinical expertise, looks at how it is imperative to recognise and address the broader societal influences that contribute to the challenges faced by the younger generation. Parents and guardians play a crucial role in fostering a healthier balance in their children’s use of technology.
The rising tide of anxiety and depression
Lee highlights a concerning trend: a 70% surge in anxiety and depression among Generations Z, Y, and Alpha members over the past 25 years. “This increase has far-reaching implications for adolescent development, contributing to lower educational attainment, school dropout, impaired social relationships, and heightened risks of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide,” says Lee. “The UK alone has witnessed a staggering 68% rise in self-harm rates among girls aged 13–16 in the last decade.”
A report by the World Health Organization revealed that 10–20% of children and adolescents worldwide grapple with mental health challenges. Even more alarming is the statistic that 50% of all mental disorders emerge by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 18, with generalized anxiety disorder and depression being the most prevalent issues.
Breaking the stigma: A positive shift in awareness
Despite the challenges, there has been a positive shift in awareness and help-seeking behaviour among young people. Many younger people, predominantly members of Generation Z and Y, are creating a paradigm shift in overcoming stigma by discussing their psychological difficulties and seeking professional help. This newfound openness is partly fostered by the digital age, which has created an environment where individuals in Generation Alpha may readily share personal experiences and find support.
When discussing the role of social media, Hawker emphasises its dual nature. “While providing a platform for expression and social support, research indicates a clear association between its use and mental health problems. A staggering 92% of UK teenagers are active on social media, with the 13–17 age group being particularly heavy users.” The impact on mental health is multifaceted, encompassing impaired sleep, cyber victimisation, and social comparison.
There is a concerning correlation between social media use and sleep quality, a primary risk factor for subsequent mental health concerns among young people. The psychological effects of using multiple social media platforms, coupled with the need for impression management, further add complexity to the landscape, potentially affecting mental health.
Unveiling broader pressures in a technology-driven society
Beyond the immediate challenges, a deeper examination reveals the broader societal influences contributing to the mental health struggles of young individuals in modern Britain. The pervasive influence of technology and consumer capitalism plays a significant role in shaping the mental health landscape. In the backdrop of a technology-driven society and consumer capitalism, young people may experience added burdens contributing to their mental health problems. The relentless bombardment of advertisements, societal pressures, and the commodification of self-worth contribute to a pervasive sense of inadequacy and anxiety among Britain’s youth today.
The pursuit of materialistic ideals
The constant exposure to curated images of success on social media fosters unrealistic expectations, leading to feelings of inadequacy. “The pursuit of materialistic ideals becomes a significant stressor as young individuals grapple with societal expectations that often prioritize external markers of success over holistic well-being,” says Lee.
The impact of mental health issues extends beyond individual well-being, affecting key aspects of adolescent development. Educational attainment becomes a battleground as mental health struggles can lead to lower academic performance and, in some cases, school dropout. Social relationships, a cornerstone of healthy development, may be impaired as young individuals grapple with internal struggles.
The role of social media, often reflective of consumerist culture, becomes a focal point in understanding these broader pressures. While providing a platform for expression and social support, its darker side reveals an association with mental health problems. Constant validation-seeking and the pressure to conform to societal standards contribute to heightened anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Mitigating the adverse effects
Parents should encourage a healthy balance by limiting social media use, avoiding starting or ending the day with it, and redirecting time towards other activities. Face-to-face interactions with friends and family remain crucial for mental well-being, providing a counterbalance to the pressures of a technology-driven and consumer-centric culture.
Lee comments: “As we strive to create a supportive environment during Children’s mental health week, it becomes clear that addressing these broader pressures is essential for building a resilient and mentally healthy generation. In navigating the complex web of pressures facing young people growing up in modern Britain, we must acknowledge the interconnected nature of factors influencing mental health. By fostering awareness, encouraging open conversations, and actively mitigating the adverse effects, we can hopefully pave the way for a brighter and more mentally resilient future for our youth.”