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How Can Adults Perpetuate Mental Health?

One of the most pressing matters in the daily lives of the youth in Britain during the 21st century is mental health. Mental health, the state of an individual’s wellbeing, affects all aspects of our lives, and therefore positive mental health is essential to maintaining and creating a productive life for young people. Unfortunately, mental health is addressed very rarely for youth, due to a rising level of stigma perpetuated by older generations.

This stigma posits that young people are exaggerating their struggles and that how youth feel is a regular part of development, therefore mental health and its treatment are not taken seriously. This stigma continues within the media, home life, schooling, and academia. Therefore, young people will live up to the expectations of heightened mental health struggles that have been normalized by adults, as they have the power to address and force mental health to be worked with more effectively. Mental health can make or break and individual’s standard of living, especially for youth.

As they are just beginning to form their own identities and find their niche in the world, now is a more vital time than ever for positive mental health becoming increasingly important. This period of development, late teens to early twenties, is seen as crucial, where different aspects of adult life are introduced, discovered, and adapted. Therefore, when this period is disrupted by poor mental health, disparity can arise between life experiences gained and association with a negative time period, namely a period where one is affected by a mental disorder or other mental health problem (Cote and Bynner).

A 2004 survey suggests that “one in ten children and young people… has a clinically recognizable mental disorder”, seemingly pointing out mental health as a visible and rapidly increasing issue, not just an isolated event. So why, then, do older generations seek to undermine and limit mental health acceptance and recognition? Adults perpetuate mental health stigma in a variety of ways that negatively affect the perception of mental health problems within the youth population.

For the sake of this argument, stigma is seen as an idea that can have adverse effects on how young people view and cope with mental health. This includes the tendency of older generations to slander youth within the media, essentially viewing youth as scapegoats for their own demise. Views of mental health are controlled by adults, as “current negative media representations of young people and moral panics over them represent manipulations by older and more powerful age generations”, furthering the degree to which stigma is portrayed (Jones).

Consequently, “the state of the nation is often linked closely in the public imagination with the state of the nation’s youth”, meaning that concerns should be raised about worsening mental health conditions. Despite this fact, the media mainly focuses on how adults are affected by the mental health conditions of the youth, instead of the suffering the youth are going through (Henderson et al). The repetition of “adolescence is conflict” by anyone other than those currently in the stages of youth exists to belittle the emotions being felt during this time of change (Jones).

Focus is instead on the “’risk taking’ behaviors” of adolescents and not on the causes of these behaviors, namely mental disorders that have not been addressed. Also, “the emotional and psychological pains of the young people themselves have been relatively neglected” both in public policy and in daily life. As a result of this, youth are taught to be shameful of their conditions, and therefore do not expressly seek out treatment or acceptance within society.

The shame that youth feel about the neglect of mental health can worsen preexisting conditions by escalating their development, leading possibilities of self-harm or even suicide attempts (Henderson et al). Therefore, youth will turn away from the media and look for other sources to answer their questions about mental health and legitimize the struggles they go through. This can also be seen through even academic discussion of youth as a whole, as Arnett brazenly states that “‘life circumstances’ are the result of poor choices” (Cote and Bynner).

As a result, youth are taught from early on that they are incapable of making good choices or changing their life circumstances, leaving them feeling hopeless and as though they do not deserve treatment. Wording is particularly important within the realm of academia, and therefore referring to youth as a period of “’storm and stress’” only appears to further the negative connotations stemming from development (Jones). When youth are introduced to the idea that their emotions are intrinsic to their stage in development, they begin to believe that they can do nothing to help themselves.

This can in turn affect their mental health, and contribute to increasing numbers of mental health disorders and suicide rates, which has become the third leading cause of death for teens in recent years (Teen Suicide Awareness: Statistics). Although efforts have been made to dispute the previous fatalistic attitudes of the academic world to these stages of life, the impact has already been made on our culture (Jones).

Academics frequently view youth with a defeatist attitude, such as “Arnett [postulating] that emerging adults are inherently ‘self-focused’ and prone to ‘instability’” (Cote and Bynner). When academics show such a pessimism towards the mental health of younger generations, it can reflect wider social anxieties. These “unconscious collective anxieties” are projected onto the youth in society, continuously undermining the potential that they have to change their own futures and seek treatment for mental health struggles.

This also feeds into how parents discuss mental health with their children, as when these academics go to print their viewpoints make it into the public eye. Due to the fact that the youth population is often dependent on some form of adult supervision, or has had the influence of a member of older generations in their life, the way that families talk about mental health can have drastic effects on how their children view mental health.

As the experiences youth have are “’rooted in the parent soil’”, the introduction of mental health is vital to development of a positive view (Jones). This can be based on talks within the household and the school that children attend. For instance, as the “school socializing agenda [is] to produce conformists”, children who are experiencing mental distress are more likely to bottle up how they are feeling and avoid getting help (Jones).

Adults are also in control of the social norms of the times, meaning that the youth have no power with which to challenge the terms adults choose to speak about mental health with, furthering the degree of stigma attributed distress with mental health. When children are expected to conform to the standards of adults, it can have a negative effect on their mental health, thereby worsening the cynical view that older generations have about this stage in development (Jones). This is especially visible as it translates to household conversations.

Families often censor difficult topics such as mental health, aiming to “’protect’ each other by avoiding painful conversations”, which can only further push youth to bottle up their difficulties with mental health in an attempt to remain in good standing with their families. Adolescents are dependent on outside resources to cope with the various complications within their lives. The significance of this observation is that youth can only use the resources allowed to them by adults, who control public policy and the social norms (Henderson et al).

As a result of social norms being controlled by older generations, the youth are at a loss when it comes to breaking the stigma about mental health and allowing a new positive light to be put upon opening up about mental health. Conversely, mental health and a focus on treatment and breaking stigma could be thought of as unimportant for a variety of reasons. Firstly, mental health is a lifelong commitment, therefore there is always a chance for development of mental disorders to slow or stop completely.

Unfortunately, the flaw within this argument is that it does not consider the number of youth who eventually commit suicide due to neglected mental health problems. An argument against the media contributing to negative stigma would be that the recent increase of mental health awareness has changed the degree to which the media influences said stigma. Although this is partly true, the fact of the matter is that if stigma can be changed for the better through awareness alone, mental health remains still as a forefront issue.

The same argument can be made for how the family and schooling of youth can influence their development, in that an introduction of positive views would change the level of stigma in society. Again, mental health problems would not simply disappear with more of a focus on the positives of mental health, instead public policy would need to reflect a more benevolent consideration of mental health treatment. Regrettably, changing social norms and policy can only happen through changing how mental health is discussed in all realms of society, not just one.

Mental health is vital to the development of youth in Britain in the 21st century. Therefore, the way that mental health is discussed within society, through the media, academics, and family and schooling. All of these topics come together to form the negative stigma surrounding mental health, and all contribute to how youth regards mental health and treatment. As a result, the youth will continue to suffer from detrimental mental health unless public policy and discussion around mental health changes.

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