It’s time to take it a easy on millennials. Barely a day goes by without journalists, politicians, or parents using social issues to shame the current generation of teens and young adults for their apparent laziness and self-indulgence. Teens are forced to deal with unflattering labels being slapped on them on a daily basis – erratic, entitled, narcissistic – but this is the least of their worries. Recent studies indicate that teens could be up against far more than their baby boomer critics realise.
Mental health problems are a prevalent issue among young people – with serious consequences for their physical health and quality of life. One study found that 15% of teenage boys and a staggering 37% of teenage girls in England have experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety. The repercussions of this can be catastrophic. The number of teen suicides is now the highest it has been since 2001. The latest data shows that in 2015, 231 children aged between 10 and 19 took their own lives – 168 of them male, 63 female. In the face of such a worrying epidemic, why do we still avoid talking about mental health? Now is the time to start listening to our teens. Now is the time to take their issues seriously. Millennials aren’t necessarily entitled – they’re depressed.
What, then, is the reason behind this development? Research points to a number of ways in which our modern lifestyles put our mental health at risk. At the heart of the issue is stress. Stress can manifest itself in a myriad ways, and have unseen effects – both physical and psychological. Unfortunately, young people today encounter stress in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. In addition to the academic pressures millennials face, they are often forced to battle their peers for limited vacancies in an over-saturated job market that increasingly relies on graduates to perform menial labour for little pay.
The influence of technology on the way young people socialise and communicate is also partly to blame, with a strong correlation between frequent use of social media and feelings of inadequacy – a key symptom of depression and anxiety. Unfortunately this is a self-sabotaging cycle; the fear of not being able to keep up with one’s peers is a leading cause of screen addiction, but obsessively checking social media exacerbates these fears. This has created a social disconnect that no other previous generation has had to face in quite the same way.
Stress invariably has a massive impact on our physical and mental health. Additionally, with all the pressures facing them, young people are increasingly neglecting their diets and sleeping patterns, which of course, only aggravates the problem.
A Helping Hand
This all feels quite bleak, but there are many things you can do to help young people struggling with mental health problems. The first and most important way in which you can help is by listening and taking their issues seriously. It may seem obvious, but discussing our problems is the first step towards resolving them. It’s a simple task, but still sometimes we fail. Too often we dismiss young people when they are depressed, writing them off as hormonal or over-dramatic. Providing a sympathetic ear could make all the difference.
Another way is to ensure they get a good night’s sleep. The importance of this should not be underestimated. A recent study has established a clear link between sleep deprivation and mental illness. “If you don’t get enough sleep, it reduces your ability to attend to positive things, which over time may confer risk for depression,” writes Dr. Ivan Vargas in the Cognitive Therapy and Research medical journal. While trying to enforce a strict bedtime may be fruitless, there are other ways to improve your child’s quality of sleep. Persuade them to do something relaxing before bed – not related to school or work and away from a screen. A comfortable mattress is also vital for a proper rest. There are a number of reliable variants on the market, like this next generation memory foam mattress from Eve, which uses innovative textile technology to prevent overheating. Writing in The Telegraph, Talib Choudhry cites testimonials claiming the mattress is the “best mattress ever” and has “proven benefits” that have benefitted client’s physical and mental health.
Finally, a healthy, balanced diet has been proven to boost productivity, energy levels, and low moods. It’s practically impossible to monitor what our kids eat, but ensuring that they have healthy meals and snacks at home is a great way to help your child’s mental and physical health. Try to promote a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fats, meat, and processed foods. Even eating one more vegetable or fruit with each meal could help to reduce inflammation and other physical symptoms of stress.