The scourge of adolescent mental illness

NEW FINDINGS from the British Medical Association (BMA) have revealed a sharp increase in mental health problems among children and adolescents.

One in 10 children, aged one to 15, now have a mental health problem, according to a report from the BMA’s board of science. The report pinpoints several particularly vulnerable groups: children from poorer backgrounds, children in care, asylum-seekers’ children and those raised against a background of domestic violence. Among the health problems cited are anxiety, depression, eating disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that the surge in adolescent mental illness parallels the wider decay in British society. The corollary of the huge technological advances of the last quarter of a century – the internet, mobile phones, DVDs and the staggering diversity of multi-channel entertainment on offer – is that many families fail to share a rudimentary conversation round the dinner table. Social interaction has been relegated to a luxury enjoyed only by the privileged elite – the so-called ‘chattering classes’ – while the rest of Britain has been swallowed up by the instant gratification, quick-fix culture.

The entertainment industry, waging a cutthroat ratings war, opts to shock rather than inform, as they cater to viewers’ diminished attention spans. Chat shows, once a dignified attempt to draw out celebrities, have become vehicles for the vulgar and ostentatious cynicism of wildly overpaid presenters (how can the BBC possibly justify Jonathan Ross’s recent 16 million pound contract?).

Television news has been downgraded in importance – journalists interview other journalists (rather than newsmakers themselves) because it allows for easier sound bites. The result is that viewers are left confused and uninformed. TV dramas now move at breakneck speed, from one calamity to another, as they try to stoke more controversy. Soaps like Eastenders strive to shock, rather than offer thought-provoking drama. Instead of in-depth characterisation, we have incest, violent confrontations, dysfunctional families and serial infidelities.

Young people, the most malleable members of society, take their cues from the culture around them. Naturally, they will emulate the antics of their celluloid role models. Is it really surprising that British schools have become increasingly violent? And is it any wonder that the playground thug graduates to petty crime, followed by the inevitable spell in prison?

Whatever happened to the

age of leisure?

Mental illness arises not just from the media’s relentless assault on our senses. British working lives have become more demanding as the old paternalistic bonds loosened. The notion of a job for life is now obsolete. A generation ago, we were told that the 21st century would be an age of leisure, that technological advances would facilitate our lives. Seldom has a prediction been so false. The average office worker is bombarded with requests from mobiles, texts, e-mails and faxes — as well as traditional correspondence and phone calls. A third of British workers put in more than 48 hours a week, the longest hours in Europe.

A university qualification – once a passport to a good job – now means very little because so many (almost 40 per cent) in Britain obtain one. Hence it’s difficult for employers to separate the mediocre from the truly talented. Young people in England – at least those living near major cities – have to earn very high salaries before they can afford to buy their first home. So they abdicate from the property ladder – instead, some spend a big slice of their income drinking themselves into oblivion on weekends, so triggering more mental health problems.

Another major cause of mental illness is the relentless assault on our senses from unwarranted noise. It has become harder just to maintain a normal conversation with anyone in a London café or pub. And yet the government has failed to tackle the issue effectively.

The diversity and plurality of British cities – trumped by our media as great advantages – has only produced a generation of displaced youngsters. British cities have become crime-ridden, overcrowded anthills with no sense of solidarity or citizenship. The fact is that homogenous societies tend to be more stable, cohesive and crime-free, although those who say so are now viewed as heretics.

Multi-culturalism – the creed that encourages people in Britain to disregard the history and tenets of the host nation – has led only to greater social dislocation. It’s harder still when the government preaches that most institutions up and down the land – including schools and the police force – discriminate against minorities. By perpetuating the generalised myth of institutionalised racism, the government has only created further alienation in the young and tarred the good character of many public servants.

Mental illness in Britain will become more widespread, until the government grasps that the problem is not just one of overstretched resources (as the media constantly inform us), but an epidemic stemming from the society in which we live.

By Gabriel Hershman