Friday 20 September 2019

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

CONCERN: Dr Gillian O’Brien
CONCERN: Dr Gillian O’Brien
Niamh Horan

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.

Sunday Independent

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