My message to Youth (mainly an apology but also a message of hope).

Today is World Mental Health Day with the focus on Young peoples mental health. I’m struggling to find the latest statistics regarding mental health and young people. The Children’s Society in 2008 reported that 10% of young people (aged 5-16) have a diagnosable mental health problem yet 75% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Ten years on I would strongly expect these figures to have risen and I imagine that the true figure is cleverly hidden somewhere.

How have we got to this situation? Lots of reasons I guess but I will attempt to cover some of them in my message to youth.

Hello young people (i’m down with the youth),

Today is world mental health day and you may hear about how mental illness is a very big issue for young people, and it’s true, it is. It’s not your fault, let me start by saying sorry. You have been very, very badly let down by a lot of different people. You will have heard that there are different factors that can help improve your mental health and reduce the risk of becoming ill. Let’s look at some of them.

  • A good diet and exercise – No arguing with this. Eating healthily and taking exercise helps your body produce lots of good stuff which helps your mind and body.

Yet – you’re bombarded with adverts for food which isn’t great even though it might taste nice and doesn’t cost much. We sell you chocolate bars that are “king-size” or doubled. We give you more and more choice and sell you energy drinks that are packed with tons of sugar and crap which can get you addicted to them. We sell off playing fields, playgrounds and leisure centres making it harder or more expensive for you to get exercise.

  • Attend a supportive school – Despite what you might think schools are good, you make friends, you learn and compared to work the hours and holidays are fantastic!

Yet – schools tell you what to wear when to wear and how to wear it. What pens and pencils you must have, what bags you are allowed. You are inspected before you get past the school gate. You do learn but your school might place more importance on teaching you the stuff that will get you through the sats, mocks and GCSE’s and get the grades which will help the big bosses of the school look good. There may be less opportunity to allow you to be a bit creative, to learn a musical instrument to find a hidden talent that you didn’t know you have that will give you the confidence to grow. As I said though, schools are great and if you are struggling please, please, please find someone you trust who you can speak to. They will believe you and they do want to help.

Hopefully after school you will go home to a supportive and stable family home. I wish that you have  parents who make you feel safe and loved, who encourage you. Times are hard for us adults, it maybe that jobs are under threat or the money that your parents make doesn’t go as far. This makes it harder for us to give you the time and attention you deserve. It maybe that unfortunately your parents are divorced and you feel under pressure to pick a side, that’s tough. I really hope this isn’t the case but I would imagine it is for some of you. Again please speak to someone if you’re struggling.

We’ve invented some amazing phones, computers, games consoles, tablets, apps, filters and games. I love them, I spend too much time on my phone and I know you probably do too but who can blame you, the technology is amazing! Us adults would love for you to spend a bit less time on them. Too much time spent on them can affect your mental health and there are some people out there who will try to take advantage of you. When I ask my kids to maybe spend less time in front of a screen, I get asked “what else is there to do”. After telling them off for answering me back(!) I stop and realise that they might have a point. We used to have youth clubs and community centres. But a lot of them have been shut along with the playing fields and playgrounds! When they do go out we worry about who they’re with, what they’re doing, how long they’ve been out. We have been conditioned to live in fear and to fear the worst.

We’ve made it harder for you to get a job when you have finally navigated your childhood and adolescence we’ve also made it a lot harder to get a house. You will probably start off in debt because you chose to go to uni get an education and get the best qualifications you can. We’re handing over a planet that’s in a bad way and we look to you to come up with some solutions. We are about to take away your right to travel, live, work and study freely in some amazing and beautiful European countries. They’re a lot of us trying our very best to stop this.

So I truly and sincerely apologise for making life a lot harder than it should be for you. But you know what – I look around at your generation and it fills me with hope and pride. I see young people all the time accepting their friends and peers for who they are and who they want to be. I see your generation being a lot more inclusive and accepting people of different beliefs, of different orientations (I hate that word) of different abilities. I see young people not swallowing the lies and bull that our generation have been fed from the media. You question people and you stand up to authority  – keep it up. You are so resilient and talented. Bottle your resilience, develop and be proud of your talent. Think for yourselves, when you become future leaders, future scientists, future influencers we are going to need innovation and new ways of working. Learn from our mistakes.

We trust you and we love you x

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