A report published by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland last month pointed towards a crisis in the emotional well-being of young people in Ireland. The studies showed that one in two are likely to experience a significant problem by the age of 24 – worse rates than those in similar European societies.
From The Catcher in the Rye, back through The Sorrows of Young Werther and Hamlet, literature is full of evidence that the passage through late adolescence and young adulthood is one fraught with difficulties. But modern society has introduced a new set of pressures and expectations that serve to make the transition into adulthood even harder. It is at this age that young people are struggling to find their place in the world. They might be entering the world of work or living away from home for the first time and sometimes it is also a time of experimentation with drink and drugs.
But why do young people in Ireland seem to be faring worse than their peers in Europe? An economic recession, binge drinking culture and a traditionally taciturn approach to issues of mental health are all aggravating factors. Economic recession has put a strain on family life and sometimes left young people depressed or anxious about their future.
“Life in Ireland has changed in the past few years with the downturn of the economy. Family life has become pressurized and young people often find home life stressful,” said Marguerite Kiely, who is clinical manager at Pieta House. “Parents are struggling financially which puts pressure on relationships. Very often parents cannot afford to separate and the atmosphere at home becomes strained.”
Young people are still learning the life skills which allow them to adapt to difficult or new situations. And in a society where young people’s sense of self-worth and status among their peers is often wrapped up in their material possessions, financial pressure cannot often hit harder than we think.
There is still a negative social stigma attached to those suffering emotionally, an attitude which is especially prevalent amongst young people for whom image is all important. It is a pressure which young men feel particularly. At Pieta House they advise using the words emotional well-being instead of mental health because of the negative connotations of the word mental, especially amongst younger people.
The research was conducted by the RCSI Psychiatric Epidemiology Research across the Lifespan Group (PERL) and is the most comprehensive study on the subject ever conducted in Ireland, relying on over 400 first hand interviews conducted with young people aged between 16 and 24.
PERL found that high numbers of young Irish people are experiencing mental health problems at any given time. By the age of 13, one in three will have experienced some kind of mental disorder, a number which increases to one in two by the age of 24. The report revealed that high numbers of adolescents abused alcohol and other substances and engaged in self harm.
“There has being an increase in addictions because of an increase in alcohol consumption and drugs where young people can develop psychosis and become impulsive in their behaviour,” commented Marguerite Kiely.
Learning to spot the warning signs is an essential element in protecting young people who are experiencing difficulties. These might include changes of moods or angry outbursts, isolating themselves from family and friends and social media, giving away processions or a loss of interest in the future. Significant life events like bereavement or parental divorce can also be triggers.
At Pieta House they emphasise the need for young people to look out for each other. The organisation recently launched the ‘Mind Your Buddy’ campaign so that teens worried about their friends can approach a nominated teacher in confidence.
“If a young person is worried about a friend it is a big responsibility so they can really look after their friend by talking with an adult they trust,” said Marguerite Kelly.
Pieta House provide crisis intervention for those who have suicide ideation and engage in self harm. The service is free of charge and they also provide one to one therapy. Pieta provide a weekend service and anyone can make contact to arrange an appointment on 01 6010000.