Modernity has offered many privileges to young people that were never available to previous generations. Technology, social media and the internet are features of modern life that provide ease for young people, whose lives are often juxtaposed to the arduous struggle of our grandparents. However, these benefits have serious implications, the effects of which are only becoming more apparent.
One in four young Australians is suffering from serious mental health illness. Multicultural youth face the added pressures of higher unemployment, trauma from overseas and significant language or cultural barriers heightening their risk. Over 40,000 young Australians have attempted suicide. Youth suicide rates are the highest in 10 years. Young males commit suicide three times higher than females. It is the leading cause of death for youth in Australia.
These figures reflect the decline of mental health among youth, which follows a global trend since the 2000s, a time of rapid technological expansion.
My recent appointment to the Community Advisory Council of the NSW Mental Health Commission enables me to advocate on this issue. It has also taught me to be wary of how the conversation is constructed, as Andrew Johnson, the Advocate for Children and Young People speaks about the self-fulfilling prophecy of youth mental health, whereby its widespread nature is often exaggerated.
This makes it seem like an inevitability for all young people and advocating for complete abstention from technology is an idealistic end that would serve no purpose than to alienate youth. What is required is the promotion of healthier and better uses of technology. This means confronting some of the contributing factors to poor mental health that are seldom highlighted.
The hyper-sexualisation of modern society is one of these factors that a recent study earlier this year correlates sexting among youth with delinquent behaviour and adverse mental health. Little attention is given to the effects of pornographic material on youth mental health, which undermines “physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing”, causing 15 states in America to declare a public health crisis.
Almost half of the young people with a mental disorder also suffer from drug or alcohol abuse. The interrelation between drugs and mental illness is convincing, even recreational drugs like cannabis, which Oxford University associated with depression and suicidality in early adulthood.
While the effects of violent gaming are not conclusive, it is clear that hyperarousal activities on-screen produce chronic stress, disrupt sleeping patterns and desensitise youth, a frightening prospect in today’s troubled world.
The rise of new psychological disorders like FOMO (fear of missing out), are not coincidental and reflect the expansion of technological and social media usage. Youth do enjoy the benefits it provides, but it opens a Pandora’s box of negative influences that deteriorate mental health. While youth mental health is the silent epidemic, society’s silence on its leading causes, is also endemic.