Sunday 27 May 2018

Junior Cert results: 'How our young people are under too much pressure - academically and socially'

Our young people are under too much pressure. Stock Image: Getty Images
Our young people are under too much pressure. Stock Image: Getty Images

Paul Gilligan

Is it getting harder to raise emotionally healthy children? For many parents, the challenge of this seems daunting.

The pressure to achieve academically, living in a world dominated by social media and "likes" and the relative availability of drugs and alcohol are all issues which drive many parents to feel as though they want to wrap their children in a protective blanket.

Two reports recently published will add to parents' concerns. The annual 'Education at a Glance' report indicates that levels of self-reported depression in Irish school-leavers is higher than those in other countries.

A report by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills concluded, following a public consultation on promoting positive mental health, that there needs to be more emphasis within schools on promoting wellbeing among students and teachers and that teachers need more time in schools to assist students.

This paints a concerning picture of the state of mental health of our young people.

Ask any parent to explain these findings and they will know the answer. Our young people are under too much pressure; pressure to academically achieve, to be socially successful, to adapt and cope with the all-pervading role of technology, particularly social media, and to live up to societal expectations.

Coping with this pressure causes many to develop anxiety and stress reactions. For others, they become withdrawn, exhausted and depressed.

What sets Irish young people apart from others internationally is the background in which they are growing up - Irish society is in a period of transition. As we emerge from the worst financial crisis ever experienced by the country, traditional societal norms are being challenged. We are only beginning to recognise and address the extent of mental health issues within our country.

As the most recent research by St Patrick's Mental Health Services indicates, stigma - particularly around those seeking treatment - remains a significant challenge. More than 25pc of people would not tell if they were receiving in-patient treatment and more than 70pc see such treatment as a sign of personal weakness. Waiting lists to access specialised treatment, particularly for young people, remain unacceptably long. Our attitudes towards alcohol and drug use remain unhealthy.

Parents and teachers themselves are experiencing more stress, uncertainty and hopelessness. All of this creates a deeply insecure backdrop in which our young people are trying to cope. However, the outlook is positive. We are beginning to see a number of programmes, such as the Wellbeing Programme, being rolled out in second-level schools.

Despite the prevalence of emotional difficulties, we are producing emotionally aware, mature young people who, in general, have a balanced healthy approach to life. They will be the ones to transition Ireland to an emotionally healthier, more accepting, supportive society.

Paul Gilligan is CEO at St Patrick's Mental Health Services

Irish Independent

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