Ire­land’s young driven to anx­i­ety by rise of ‘fear-based cul­ture’

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News - Ni­amh Ho­ran

A THREAT-FO­CUSED world, where teens and mil­len­ni­als share and dis­cuss ter­ror­ist at­tacks and threats of nu­clear war on so­cial me­dia, is adding to young peo­ple’s un­der­ly­ing sense of anx­i­ety, a lead­ing men­tal health ex­pert be­lieves.

Dr Gil­lian O’Brien, direc­tor of clin­i­cal gov­er­nance at Jig­saw, the na­tional cen­tre for youth men­tal health, said a new ‘fear-based cul­ture’ where fear was ‘weaponised’ and then cir­cu­lated on pop­u­lar apps, was im­pact­ing on our men­tal health.

Dr O’Brien was speak­ing as new fig­ures show anx­i­ety was the num­ber one rea­son 12- to 25-year-olds were pre­sent­ing to Jig­saw’s treat­ment ser­vices.

“If you look at the world we live in to­day, there is a ‘threat fo­cus’.

“You think about North Korea, the rhetoric of Don­ald Trump, there are a lot of mes­sages young peo­ple and all of us hear, on a sub­tle level and not so sub­tle level, that un­der­mine our sense of safety and se­cu­rity in the world.

“The base­line sense of se­cu­rity that we feel as a pop­u­la­tion is then low­ered by this.

“And when you put on top of that ‘I’m be­ing bul­lied in school’, ‘I’m wor­ried about not find­ing a job’, ‘I have no money’, ‘my re­la­tion­ship broke down’, what­ever it is, it makes us a bit less able to cope.”

She said the use of so­cial me­dia to con­sume news was ex­ac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem.

“Young peo­ple aren’t watch­ing the news in tra­di­tional ways but they are look­ing at their Face­book feeds and the way it is shared on Face­book tends to be more emo­tively fo­cused.

“So, for ex­am­ple, dur­ing the Cata­lan ref­er­en­dum a pic­ture cir­cu­lated on­line of a lady with white hair and blood run­ning down her face.

“Then every­one re­sponded in a very emo­tive way, so the way young peo­ple are in­ter­act­ing with news on­line and shar­ing it re­ally taps into very ba­sic emo­tional re­sponses and fears.”

Dr O’Brien also de­scribed how ‘the age of fear’ had seeped into ev­ery­day phrases: “The no­tion of cre­at­ing ‘safe spa­ces’ in uni­ver­si­ties is in­ter­est­ing… does that sug­gest ev­ery­where out­side of that place isn’t safe? It feeds into that idea that ‘a threat is im­mi­nent, it could be in your col­lege, it could be when you go to see your favourite band’, and peo­ple ab­sorb that like sponges.

“I think we have to be re­ally care­ful of the lan­guage we use with young peo­ple and think through the im­pli­ca­tions of it.”

Dr O’Brien also spoke about the ef­fect tech­nol­ogy de­pen­dency is hav­ing on the men­tal health of Ire­land’s young. “In­ter­ac­tions are largely vir­tual and then they find it dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish and main­tain con­nec­tions in real life. They can feel in­cred­i­bly com­fort­able on­line and in­creas­ingly less com­fort­able in the real world.

“We now have a lower thresh­old thanks to our need for con­stant stim­u­la­tion and dis­trac­tion.

“Peo­ple can’t just sit with them­selves any­more. One re­sponse to that has been the ‘mind­ful­ness’ move­ment. When you think about it — the very no­tion of sim­ply sit­ting still now has to have a name!”

Dr O’Brien was speak­ing as new fig­ures re­leased in Jig­saw’s an­nual re­port re­veal that the most com­mon dif­fi­cul­ties young peo­ple came to the ser­vices with were: anx­i­ety (38pc), low mood (30pc), stress (20pc), anger (15pc), and sleep dif­fi­cul­ties (14.5pc).

Where the early in­ter­ven­tion model Jig­saw uses in Ire­land dif­fers from that of the model used across the rest of the world, is that their early in­ter­ven­tion fo­cuses on pro­vid­ing sup­ports and ser­vices for young peo­ple before they reach the point of ac­quir­ing a for­mal men­tal health di­ag­no­sis.

The data re­leased by Jig­saw, the Na­tional Cen­tre For Youth Men­tal Health, in­di­cated that Ire­land was on track to be a global leader in youth men­tal health re­search and sup­port ser­vices by 2027.

Mean­while, re­cent stud­ies have shown the United States is a nation choked with fear. Ac­cord­ing to the Chap­man Univer­sity Sur­vey on Amer­i­can Fears, threats of ter­ror­ism, eco­nomic col­lapse, cy­ber war­fare and gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion all fea­tured on the ques­tion­naire — spark­ing fears for some 70pc of cit­i­zens.

CON­CERN: Dr Gil­lian O’Brien

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