Mental Health Issues: Touching our Whole Society

September 10, 2014 Updated: September 10, 2014

During the recent election I had the opportunity to talk to thousands of people in the Ashbourne District, and mental health was a pressing issue across all age groups.

Teenagers were affected, as were people in their twenties and thirties, and even many older people in their fifties and sixties were touched in different ways by mental health issues. It appeared to have touched a wide range people in our society, especially the long-term unemployed who experience that feeling of worthlessness, and people who are struggling with aspects of aging. Many were suffering deeply, with a feeling of not being valued.

Pressures on Young People

The pressures on young people often originated from school. Teenagers these days are being bullied through social media, because social media facilitates a herd mentality. You have people latching onto comments about others, and because the technology is 24/7, there is no escape when they go home to their family in the evening. 

When I went to school you might get teased on the bus on the way home, but for young people these days it is from when they get up to when they go to bed. There is no escape from it.

The sad thing is there appears to be no way to control it or stop it, and it easily gets out of hand. Part of the problem for parents is that it’s not only Facebook: this generation move from one social network to the next, and the parents have no way of keeping up even if they tried.

Support for Young People

In Ashbourne we are looking forward to the opening of the Youth Café, which will happen soon. We hope this will be an outlet for young people who are not that interested in sport or the other activities that are currently available, and that it will provide a positive environment for them to enjoy themselves.

They do get some support in school; however, there is still such a stigma around mental health issues that people won’t talk about it or open up about it for fear of what others might say, and that’s particularly true for guys. Outside of the schools I am not aware of too many services that are available, and that’s something we need to look at.

Sport is always a healthy and positive outlet, and there are lots of options, lots of different sports available in the area, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. For those in sport, it is possible they may drift out of it when suffering from mental health issues, so it is important that teachers and coaches are trained to see the signs, and that they know how to intervene.

State Exams

After the teenagers group, there is also a lot of pressure on young adults around the time of the Leaving Cert and afterwards. Going to college is considered the norm these days, and if you don’t go, it puts negative pressure on you. 

When the points came out a few weeks ago, the airwaves were full of success stories of young people making great achievements in their exams. But this then put enormous pressure on those young people who, for one reason or another, didn’t achieve good results. 

We are all different. Success means different things to different people, so we need to be careful with these things as a society. I personally did an apprenticeship because I was passionate about becoming a mechanic—there are many different routes people can take, and not all involve going to college. The good thing about the apprenticeship route is that the person comes out of the system qualified and ready to hit the ground running.

Regarding schooling, there is another issue that is being discussed in the education system that may cause young people to be less prepared to handle pressure. The Minister for Education is currently considering dropping the Junior Cert and replacing it with a form of continual assessment. 

If this were to happen, it would mean that the first high-pressure situation a young person would face would be the Leaving Cert, and they would have had little in the way of preparation for it. 

To me this change needs to be looked at very carefully, as we already know young people struggle to cope with the stresses of the Leaving Cert. The Junior Cert can help them to prepare for it.

The purpose of the education system must be to prepare young people to handle the realities of adult life, and part of that preparation involves handling pressure. Some of the discussion regarding removing the Junior Cert revolved around not putting pressure on young people during their vulnerable teenager years, but the flip side also has to be looked at. If they don’t learn about handling high-pressure situations in their teens, when will they?

In general, whether it’s in Ashbourne or anywhere in the country, there needs to be a system in place that is visible, accessible, and accepted by young people to help them battle mental health issues when they come into their lives. 

For important issues like this, we can’t be making excuses regarding the availability of resources: it is too important, and it affects too many people.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Alan Tobin