Society’s Anxiety

Cian Aherne, Olive Moloney, Karen O’Donoghue and Lloyd Horgan.

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Abstract

Background: There has been a trend of increased levels of anxiety amongst young people in Ireland over the last decade. Reasons given for this trend are often over-simplistic in nature. This article aims to reflect deeper on the context of youth mental health in Ireland and to contribute to the theoretical understanding of this context.

Method: This is an in-depth opinion article that explores the perspectives of two of the authors as professionals working in youth mental health on a daily basis. Two members of Youth Advisory panels in Jigsaw have also offered perspectives throughout the piece. The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF)1 is used as a theoretical framework for exploring the case example of youth mental health in Ireland. Two youth advisory panels of young people then offered a collaborative summarised response to the final question of the PTMF: “what is your story?” as a conclusion.

Results: A case example is provided, from a youth mental health-based perspective, of the context and understanding of the rising levels of anxiety for young people in Ireland.

Conclusion: Some of the themes alluded to by the authors and the contributors include the disconnect between generations, the impact of social comparison and thwarted connections. The youth advisory panels also offered suggestions for ways forward from current levels of anxiety.

 

Introduction

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Krishnamurti

Anxiety is the highest presenting issue for young people to mental health services in Ireland2. Young people are now more likely to be in the mild, moderate, severe or very severe ranges for anxiety than they were in 2012 and the proportion of adolescents reporting very severe anxiety has doubled in this time. This in-depth opinion article aims to explore perspectives on the high prevalence of anxiety for young people in Ireland, from the points of view of Clinical Psychologists working in a youth mental health service (Jigsaw – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health) alongside the perspectives of some young people engaged with this service as volunteers (from the Youth Advisory Panels; YAPS in Jigsaw Limerick and Jigsaw Kerry). Youth Advisory Panels in Jigsaw comprise of up to 20 young people aged 16-25 who have an interest in youth mental health. They meet on a regular basis (at least once per month). Part of their work is to help inform the service that they are aligned with about what is relevant for young people at present. This helps to shape the service so that it is relevant for young people. Two of the authors of the current article are young people who are in the Jigsaw Kerry (Karen) and Jigsaw Limerick (Lloyd) YAPs. The Jigsaw Kerry and Jigsaw Limerick YAPs also met in groups to inform the concluding section of this article. The young people’s words have been left unchanged and are envisaged to serve as examples of the social commentaries that young people engage in regarding anxiety and mental health. When a young person’s point of view is being expressed, these are identified by their name at the beginning of a paragraph which is in parentheses. As clinicians working in youth mental health, many of the examples provided also come from the Clinical Psychologist authors’ commonality of experiences on a daily basis in clinical spaces with young people.  We acknowledge all of our values and experiences in relation to gender, class, culture, age, ability, etc., have influenced and limited this paper.

This paper begins with a historical perspective on anxiety. This is followed by an exploration of current perceived societal norms and of how these relate to anxiety for young people. We conclude with a case example of a structured alternative to individualised and symptomatic understandings of anxiety through the lens of the Power Threat Meaning Framework1. The piece is looked at through the lenses of individual professional mental health support with young people and engagement with young people and others in the community.

 

Historical and Social Context

It is postulated that individualism (where the interests of the individual are valued over the interests of the group) in western society increased during the 1950s post war capitalism and has continued to grow through to today3. Further recognition of this is apparent in more recent neo-liberal societal developments where we have moved away from the physical personal and into the online space where communication has become potentially more depersonalised. No war or large-scale life threatening struggles on a societal level had occurred in the Western world since this time (until more recently with Covid-19) so community or collective responses to difficulties have not been as necessary4. On an individual level, however, people continue to struggle with perceived life threatening situations. This relates in particular to identity and sense of self; both of which are constructs of an individualised society. Threat responses therefore often hone in on the individual and perceived threats as opposed to actual physical threats. For example, a young person’s threat response may be to make every effort to perform well in exams and achieve perfect scores (even to the detriment of their mental health) for fear that their identity or self-image as ‘a high achiever’ is under threat.

Clinical Psychology, alongside other ‘psy-complex’ professions5 has been critiqued for its direct contribution to the societal control through the perpetuation of individualised psychological measurement and responses to problems with living, and to confounding the economic argument that the more well-adjusted people are to society the more economically productive they will be6. People’s struggles lead to individual help-seeking, assessments, leading to diagnoses of clinical difficulties lying outside the ‘normal’ range which often ignore context, history and socioeconomic situations. Then on to individualised therapeutic interventions through structuralist and modernist therapeutic modalities such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This then colludes with governmental population responses to distal distress factors such as poverty with mass therapy, for example Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies in the UK, as a cheaper response to changing governmental policies or societal systems.

Significant crises do still occur such as climate change and biodiversity, the onset of Covid-19 and physical threats (i.e. living in a dangerous neighbourhood and/or experiencing physical assault or theft) and these too bring mental health challenges with them. Furthermore, social inequality appears to play a major role in levels of mental health difficulty7. Even with such collective crises, however, the focus for coping in western society can still be on the individual – for example, people’s understanding of wearing face masks to protect themselves rather than others8.

Despite some governmental efforts to regulate and co-opt, power seems to have increasingly been removed from local communities and the idea of approaching daily living collectively. A stark example of this is the increase in community fear (i.e. fear to knock on a neighbour’s door, to have a chat to neighbourhood children and to show disapproval at unacceptable behaviour). It is our hypothesis that this relates to high levels of anxiety of retribution such as litigation, the disintegration of communities and our collective inability to cope with this in non-individuated ways9, 10.

Karen: “I feel that community isn’t something which is enjoyed but rather feared. People are afraid to open up and take part within the community. Even to avail of any services I feel there is a sense of judgement especially within a smaller community e.g. being seen walking into a church as a young person, going to the shop and buying lots of crisps. Everyone is judging each other. As a young person, it creates a certain amount of worry and fear. Communities (including young people themselves) could be oppressing the youth of today and not creating an environment where one can express themselves.”

Each generation shapes the next thus this culture of individualism has been transferred from previous generations to the current one in different ways11. New generations often subsequently rebel. These rebellions are mostly entirely understandable though may not seem so at the time (Examples include rock music, TV, the internet and social media). The issues are often responses to societal moments or cultures that younger people take on in their responses (a striking recent example is that of modern environmentalism, Fridays for Future and the rise in prominence of Gretta Thunberg). Younger generations, we see, continue to have a profound and arguably progressive impact on society and community. This may also need to be the case for the culture of individualism that has been thrust upon the current generation of young people.

Karen: “Topics often criticised in today’s modern world include the age of technology, music and the lost art of conversation. I don’t think these criticisms are limited to our generation but are actually the product of a repeating pattern. It is probably a way for the older generations to cope with the changing world and look back on their past with rose-tinted glasses. This is damaging for young people. It is interesting how I can identify with the song My Generation by the Who which was recorded in 1965. It explores the voicing of the youth as the other generations try to cope with the new generations. I agree that there needs to be a more helpful approach and that the youth are not always praised for the good things about the generation such as an accepting nature and willingness to create change.”

The difficulty with social commentary is often that it leaves people wondering and leaning towards simple solutions or narratives (e.g. “The Snowflake Generation”)12. Attributing high levels of anxiety and other mental health difficulties to flaws in the current generation of young people is not helpful and does not offer us any pathways toward a more mentally healthy and better connected society. Furthermore, such emphasis ignores the many structural, social and cultural forces that affect the mental health of young people though being entirely outside of their control. Examples include prolonged adolescence13 and greater dependence on family for longer periods of time14. It is important to seek out more nuanced understandings for the difficulties experienced by the current generation of young people, particularly through discussing these with young people themselves, and to then look towards helpful routes of support and change. It is time to (re)consider placing the agency of young people at the centre of the responses to the systems in which they are located, and by extension placing communities and service users collectively at the heart of the questions and solutions to the concerns in their lives15.

 

Perspectives on current levels of anxiety

This section explores some of the prevalent individual and perceived threats which we consider impact on societal anxiety in Ireland – we recognise that these are likely to be culturally and socially bound.

We live in a world where narrow ideas of academic, sports or social achievement and success are treated as social capital16. The messages that young people get on a daily basis (often from parents, teachers, coaches and peers) include that we need to be resilient, successful academically, financially, socially and in our outward-facing persona if we are to be of worth. These norms are set from an early age as young people are compared via grades and performance throughout their scholastic and recreational lives17. As a result, there is constant pressure on young people to project or live up to an image of themselves as happy, well-adjusted and exceptional individuals. Being average is out of fashion. Not projecting this image is linked to stigma and being seen as different/defunct18. The pressure to portray oneself as well-adjusted adds to increasing rates of anxiety and mental health challenges19. Examples include young people seeing the number of friends/followers they have online as a reflection of their worth, the Leaving Certificate as the pivotal standpoint for their life trajectory and sexual attractiveness as the key to being liked. In addition, young people openly experiencing this environment as challenging are often seen as the individual loci of their problem rather than there being consideration given to the societal, political and cultural pressures that they have been put under20. The current generation has been faced with a proliferation of therapeutic approaches and self-help guidelines to promote positive thinking21. It appears that the language of cognitive behavioural therapy has crossed from professional dialogue into everyday vernacular and is being held up as a panacea for all challenges. One need only Google “celebrity positive thinking” to see hundreds of quotes attributed to famous figures as to how their positive thinking is what led to their success and well-being. This appears to further reinforce an individualistic understanding of distress. The high dependence on cognitive explanations over an embodied and more collective human experience reinforces the split of mind/body/brain/soul/spirit from environment and context. Though the reasons for high anxiety are complex and multi-faceted, we suggest that the focus on achievement plays a major role in the high levels of anxiety experienced by young people of the current generation22.

Adolescence in particular brings with it an increased risk of poor mental health. In fact, 75% of future diagnosed mental health ‘disorders’ are identified as having started before age 24, 50% by age 1423. As a result, anxiety, depression, deliberate self-harm and suicidality appear to have become part of the dialect for Irish young people24.

Lloyd: “It feels like this generation of young people is living in an ‘age of anxiety’ and that this problem is an ever-growing epidemic amongst Irish youth. As a young person myself, I see an increase in mental health issues such as anxiety amongst my peers and on an even wider spectrum throughout social media. It has become quite common to see other young people discussing mental health issues, with anxiety being most common. In my opinion, however, it is unclear whether the current growing popularity of mental health discussion in Ireland is due to our society becoming more accepting of these issues and that stigma is being broken down (with these levels of anxiety having been there all along) or whether, due to a multitude of contributing factors, anxiety is on the increase leading to the necessity for discussion. It could also be simply a mixture of both.”

Karen: “I feel that anxiety is a word commonly used among young people these days. It is difficult for someone to distinguish between an anxiety disorder and the feeling of being anxious if any difference at all. I believe that many of these people do suffer from anxiety, however, it’s about understanding the concept which I feel is not clearly explained to the youth. I think that many young people put how they are feeling down to the ups and downs of growing up and in life in general. We are expected to deal with what life throws at us and if we don’t, we are not seen to be coping like everyone else. I feel that if we are going to get anywhere with improving how we deal with youth mental health, we have to change as a culture how we view mental health. Mental health issues aren’t a result of losing control of life, but they are a part of life as everyone has mental health. It’s unrealistic to think otherwise. Also, the fact that we often don’t have control of our surroundings (which can heavily influence our mental health) shows how this is a societal problem rather than an individual problem.”

The young people attending Jigsaw services often describe this anxiety as being entirely their fault and seek support in eradicating difficult thoughts that they may be having. They see these thoughts as personal flaws and want to take responsibility and action for them. One of the most common derivatives of this anxiety is young people seeing themselves as ‘different’ to their peers. They feel strange or defective in some way because they surmise that they are not coping as well as their peers or are “not doing life right”. It is ironic that their peers are often also attending services with similar challenges seemingly unaware that they are connected in their commonality of distress. Another possibility, therefore, is that anxiety has become a more common identification for communicating the need for support or connection. It appears that the messages for life success that young people are given from a young age set deep in the psyche with very little consideration or acceptance of other powers and forces at play25.

 

Ways Forward

It’s important to point out that not all anxiety is to be feared. Yes, there is a rise in anxiety but (as we’ve mentioned) this is for good reason. Perhaps the rise in anxiety is telling us something extremely important as a society and should lead to action rather than further fear. It’s unclear whether or not our tolerance for coping with anxiety has lowered or if unmanageable anxiety has increased. We may not acquire the answer to that question but the development of education curricula for mental health has been regularly touted as one of the solutions for how we respond to the rise in anxiety.

Lloyd: “In an ideal society, I would love to see more support for young people’s mental health available, whether this is rolled out more within the education system or the community. It would be fantastic to see this being done at a prevention level as opposed to an intervention level to avoid young people arriving to avail of help at a crisis point. I personally think a key factor to addressing anxiety in Ireland is education. What I am referring to is education that involves teaching young people from primary school years onwards how to express themselves emotionally and giving them the permission to do so freely. This alongside teaching coping skills, self-awareness and some cognitive-behavioural skills could potentially reduce the issues we are currently facing.”

Karen: “I think that services should be built into school life to help students throughout their education journey. I believe that it is important to mention school as this is where young people spend a massive portion of their lives. The stress and pressures of school impact mental health. I believe that the fear of being judged by peers is a significant fear for young people. I feel that there is pressure in school to perform well academically. Once a standard is set you are expected to keep up that standard. There is not much of an opportunity for the school to know what is going on in a young person’s life. I think that school/education is a big element in a young person’s life and maybe should be mentioned more because of this.”

The wellbeing component of the Junior Certificate cycle is encouraging and it’s important that strong emphasis is put on the worth of this education and on the need for holistic education (rather than strictly academic). Furthermore, we are excited by the One Good School initiative through Jigsaw whereby schools are signing up for staff and pupil training on mental health as well as peer mentoring education. This is a whole school approach to helping teachers and pupils supporting themselves and each other through mental health challenges. While there have been some changes in how distress is approached, it remains from an individual perspective. The State education system in Ireland as elsewhere is based on a curriculum that allows little flexibility for individual differences in children’s abilities and interests26. Arguably, by trying to meet an average need this may therefore not meet any child’s particular needs27. Alternative schools, such as Steiner schools have arisen out of teachings on critical pedagogy where the model of learning is set by the subject28, as a means of liberation and transformation, not driven by an analysis of future economic needs.

 

Karen: “I think that the education system in Ireland needs to be completely changed if we are to change our attitudes and structures to deal with youth mental health in this country. It has already been noted that the pressure of achieving at high levels and consistently can be incredibly damaging for young people. We need to redefine what it means to be “achieving at a high level” in order to cater for more talents, values and attitudes. For someone who is struggling with anxiety they may find it difficult to even go to school. Therefore, going to school consistently or trying their best in class is going to be an achievement for them. However, this won’t be recognized at the end of their secondary education when they are handed their Leaving Certificate. Only their performance in exams will be shown, nothing else. If the systems that we put the youth of today through are changed to take pressure off young people to be performing well i.e. coping well with life, only then can we create a shift in societal attitudes towards the youth and we can understand their needs better.”

 

Other systemic approaches to the rise in anxiety may include people connecting with each other in person in community initiatives such as Transition Towns, GAA, Tidy Towns, or anything which gives people access to each other and to helping other people. Additionally, family support and parent education could be more widespread. Parents are being faced with having to support young people with high levels of anxiety without being given any further information about what this means and about what helps. A major aspect of such education that might be helpful is that they are led or co-led by parents and families who have experienced such difficulties themselves, in order to role model emotional literacy, self-care and help seeking behaviour so that young people can have a template for how to cope. Intergenerational projects that draw on the wisdom of community elders could also be beneficial to all engaged.

 

Clinical Psychology has generated some alternative collective (post-structuralist, often social constructionist or social materialist) responses whose origins derive in cultures outside the western industrialised nations, such as the Tree of Life29 and campaigning on austerity, such as Psychologists for Social Change30. Furthermore, Clinical Psychology has contributed to alternative ways of formulating the challenges we experience such as such as Power-Mapping31, 32 or Societal Case Formulation33. The PTMF is a further non-medical framework for formulating difficulties that takes a social justice perspective. We are familiar with the PTMF in Jigsaw34 and thus have utilised it for the current article.

 

The Power Threat Meaning Framework

In this section we look at what an alternative and non-medical framework for understanding mental health difficulties in understanding societal anxiety. The PTMF was published by the Clinical Psychology Division of the British Psychological Society in 2018. Its core tenets are four questions:

  • What happened to you? (i.e. how is power operating in your life?)
  • How did it affect you? (i.e. what kind of threats does it pose?)
  • What sense did you make of it? (i.e. what is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
  • What did you have to do to survive? (i.e. what kinds of threat response are you using?)

With two additional questions:

  • What are your strengths? (i.e. what access to power resources do you have?)
  • What is your story? (i.e. how does all this fit together?)

We feel this can be a helpful framework through which to view current high levels of anxiety in the young people of Ireland. It may illuminate different perspectives that are not often cited in popular social commentary and that cannot be explained by previously existing medical frameworks for mental health (such as DSM-V or ICD-10). The following are answers to the questions of the PTMF informed by the perspectives of young people and professionals working in the area of youth mental health.

 

What has happened to you?

Young people are telling us that there are high levels of pressure being put upon them on a daily basis to ‘be well’. Mixed messages are being relayed to young people at every juncture about what anxiety is, why they might be experiencing it and what they should do when they notice it. We posit that this is largely related to the aforementioned neo-liberal ideals being played out in young people’s early development whereby they are given the message that they have total control and responsibility for the challenges that come their way in life, and yet they are not eligible to vote. TV and media play a huge role in this when one thinks of the many celebrities and TV shows that give the message “you will feel good if you work hard enough at it.” This puts the onus entirely on young people as individuals to sort out their own difficulties and can be divisive, rather than seek out a collective or common understanding that could lead to solidarity. The powerful message, that achievement is the means to living a successful life, also puts pressure on young people to perform at the highest level in all that they do, which can be exhausting and place people in a physiological threat response mode.

How did it affect you?

We hypothesise that this constant pressure has significantly contributed to a high prevalence of anxiety for young people. Whether individually, interpersonally or systemically, it is clear that many young people are having regular experiences of anxiety in Ireland. There are also high levels of confusion as to what this means and what can be done about it as well as high levels of other mental health difficulties (such as low mood and stress) as a result. Individual identities are constantly under threat, with the need to fit in being constantly to the fore. Furthermore, relationships and family/community systems are breaking down when the constant emphasis on success is individualistic in nature, as they are subject to the same messages and forces, resulting in the degradation/removal of potential sources of solace and help.

What sense did you make of it?

Young people are finding it difficult to make any sense of it. Common causes cited are the rise in social media usage, lack of services and lower levels of resilience. Valid research pertaining to these reasons are hard to come by, however, and it feels mostly like people are clutching at over-simplified and familiar narratives for meaning. A prevalent question in community fora is “are young people more anxious or are we just talking about it more?”. Sense-making still eludes us and, as a result, young people are often seeing themselves as the ones responsible (i.e. ”if I can’t understand it and the adults in my life cannot explain it to me then it must be me”). The lens of the young person often cites individual/personal explanations whereas if we look to make sense of this from a systemic/societal level, there is strong evidence that increased economic and social inequalities in our society and the associated achievement-focused pressure are clearly negatively affecting all of our mental health7.

What did you have to do to survive?

There is a myriad of responses that young people are having as a result of high levels of anxiety and distress. The most concerning of these being self-harm where young people commonly cite harming themselves as a means of release from the emotional pain. Other common responses include poor sleep, refusing to go to school, isolation from friends, misuse of substances, anger and aggression and difficulties with eating. These responses are often explained as ‘symptoms’ of an underlying mental health difficulty/diagnosis (i.e. Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Depression). From the perspective of the PTMF, however, these make more sense as functional responses to real threats to identity and meaning in young people’s lives, which may become dysfunctional. Examples include self-harming to regulate unbearable pressure, eating difficulties to maintain a sense of control in confusing and chaotic circumstances and aggression in order to hold on to any perceived level of status available.

What are your strengths?

Young people experiencing high levels of distress often do not see the strengths or accesses to resources that they might have. Ironically, though individualistic messages tend to inform the problem, young people’s unique and innate worth as human beings is not emphasized nor encouraged. Many of the young people attending Jigsaw have incredible creative talents, hugely caring spirits and vast amounts of energy that they are looking to put into meaningful ways of living. The power of connection is also a huge strength of the youth of today. Again, interestingly, lots of this connection now occurs in the online space where rallies of young people can form rapidly when in pursuit of the same goal (e.g. Fridays for Future).

What is your story?

The Jigsaw Limerick and Jigsaw Kerry YAPs convened separately to review the article to this point. Their discussions were facilitated by a Youth & Community Worker in each instance. The Youth & Community Workers transcribed the main points made by the young people present and relayed them back to the groups to see that they agreed with what was noted. The answer to the question “what is your story?” therefore is an amalgamation of both groups’ summaries and is written entirely in their words.

It feels like there is a wide culture gap between generations of adults and young people. Adults see anxiety as only a problem for this generation of young people. They seem to forget what is was like to be young and that they possibly had similar feelings in their youth. They don’t see it as their problem so they don’t relate. There is a lack of understanding and, as a result, young people’s experiences of anxiety have often been dismissed, young people have been blamed for their problems and young people have then been made feel guilty for having these feelings. Even coping strategies such as recreation have been looked down upon (though young people need these for self-care) – it’s not all about the pub!

The generation gap and culture of pressure are linked by changes in technology. Young people are now exposed to so much more information, dangers, experiences and everything is instantly accessible. There is now global news “on tap”. Adults blame young people’s “overuse” of technology for their levels of anxiety but social media now means that young people are exposed to anxiety-provoking news (with everything else) all the time, all day long. Adults don’t understand what this experience is like. Young people are changing with technology and do not always find it to have a negative impact. Adults, however, are not changing with the relationship between young people and technology – they are instead blaming it.

Adults are often too busy to prioritise helping young people when their problems are small. They have transferred their high paced, capitalistic culture into a world where young people are under constant pressure to grow up and “be an adult quicker”. We don’t have to buy a house and get married young! The bar of expectations is higher and often unattainable. Young people are in constant competition with each other from an early age and this stretches through to State Exams and higher education. All of these are made feel absolutely necessary if young people are to have any chance of getting a job to earn money to buy things.

The constant competition even extends to young people’s problems. you have to be aggressive and competitive, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, completely stressed or lacking time, or else you’re not “doing it right”. Anxiety and stress are turning into social capital and young people become competitive about who is experiencing more problems. Being stressed or anxious almost proves that you are working toward something and that you are trying and putting an effort in – it’s a symbol of productivity. Stress therefore is seen as desirable but finding it difficult to cope with stress is then frowned upon.

Existential crises confront us at every turn and there is a longing for connection. People don’t want to have to fend completely for themselves. It is not in our nature. We want to solve problems together/communally, but capitalism encourages us to do otherwise. It may be linked to the disintegration of community. There doesn’t seem to be as many community initiatives and people tend to be more self-serving. Anxiety is rooted in young people’s desire to connect with others. To be the ‘most anxious’ is often actually a cry for connection. Young people are again, comparing themselves to others  – “Why can’t I cope? Why can’t I do what they do?”. We used to be compared to just our neighbours but now we are constantly compared to neighbours, previous years at school and the rest of the whole world! Anxiety is something we all experience. It is a vicious cycle – there is much to cause anxiety for young people now, but because it is seen as normal to experience anxiety on a regular basis, young people also expect themselves to just pull their socks up and deal it, especially because it seems others are doing this.

Young people are blaming themselves for their anxiety. They assume others are experiencing the same thing, but seemingly dealing with it very well and they wonder why they can’t cope. Young people then have to put up a defence which means they don’t talk about or acknowledge their anxiety in meaningful ways. This means there is no space to talk properly talk about anxiety and what is underlying it. It needs to be quite severe before support is provided. We need to respect and listen to each other’s voices more. As a way forward, change is a group process that starts with the individual – we need to stop comparing ourselves to others, or be competitive, but rather try to empathise and be supportive. Some paths forward may include:

  • Peer-to-peer support – as young people are experiencing the same thing, they can relate and empathise.
  • Challenging the norm and what is deemed as acceptable – this is important because the issue is not individual, it’s societal and cultural and there is a need to stand against it.
  • Spending time alone – often not promoted. We’re encouraged not to think about what we want. Instead we look at what others think/are doing.
  • Sharing experiences – i.e. posting on social media and starting authentic and genuine conversations about things that matter to young people.
  • Acceptance of recreation and breaks because the rest of our life is “always on”.
  • There is a need to educate with the need to support young people at the point when their problems are small, rather than waiting until crisis point.
  • There are very few programmes for parents to understand what’s going on for their children (often not focused on building understanding but more on how to discipline).

 

We get a lot of blame. This has made us angry and as a result we are standing up for ourselves with strong opinions and loud voices.

 

Conclusion

We outlined in the beginning of this article how the transition to more of an individualistic society has likely had a negative impact on young people’s levels of anxiety. We cited a deterioration in community/collectiveness/togetherness as playing a significant role. We also noted how this culture has been transferred from generation to generation. Stress has been passed on and promoted as social capital yet older generations tend to blame younger generations for their threat responses and condemn their coping strategies.

In using the PTMF as a means for reflection, the young people who were consulted with for this article seemed to recognise much of what was outlined in the introduction. They reflected that the culture gap between generations feels wider than ever and that, rather than try to understand young people, adults continue to tell them that they’re not coping properly. On the flipside, the young people noted that much of the anxiety that they are dealing with has been passed on from older generations where the emphasis has been on striving, pressure and productivity.

The young people acknowledged that they feel that relationships and connectedness can be means for working through and potentially overcoming the high levels of anxiety. They see the anxiety as rooted in thwarted connections on different levels and that empathy and support are means for coping with the difficult emotions. The practical steps suggested by young people include themes of acceptance, support and sharing; values that may well be sustaining for generations to come.

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to acknowledge the significant contributions from the Limerick and Kerry Youth Advisory Panels in outlining their collective story in the concluding section of this piece. We would also like to acknowledge the co-ordination of this input by the Youth & Community Engagement Workers for Jigsaw Kerry and Jigsaw Limerick: Caoimhe Keogan and Siobhán Wilmott.

Authors

Dr. Cian Aherne, Clinical Psychologist – Clinical Manager, Jigsaw. Email: cianaherne@gmail.com

Dr. Olive Moloney, Clinical Psychologist – Clinical Manager, Jigsaw

Karen O’Donoghue, Jigsaw Kerry Youth Advisory Panel Member

Lloyd Horgan, Jigsaw Limerick Youth Advisory Panel Member

 

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