IF YOU are over 30 years of age, you probably have never heard of Neknomination. But anybody under 25 years of age knows that it is the latest social media phenomenon, which involves people being nominated to drink a pint of alcohol very quickly and post a video of themselves online.
It appears that this so-called viral game began outside of Ireland and initially involved daring a person to drink a pint of beer in a place they shouldn't, such as their workplace or on a bus, and post a video.
However, the extreme variation of this game involves drinking a pint of any alcohol – including vodka or whiskey – and also in some cases doing a dare.
In an Irish context, this game is effectively a suicide mission. Even more worrying, it is aimed at the 18-25-year-old age group, a group that is one of the most vulnerable in Irish society.
We know the high levels of unemployment among this age cohort and the many who are leaving the country. Recent research has also found that one in two of this group is likely to experience some type of mental disorder and that one in five has a substance use disorder.
More than one in 15 has engaged in deliberate self-harm and one in five has experienced suicidal ideation. The real implication of these statistics is that many of this age cohort feel hopeless, disempowered and alienated and that one of the ways they cope with this is through the abuse of alcohol and drugs.
For this particular age cohort, this latest phenomenon is particularly dangerous, and particularly attractive.
It is driven by a need to impress online peers by being prepared to take risks and ignore social norms.
The tragedy of all of this is that the activity has a detrimental impact on mental health and well-being and has, already it seems, resulted in loss of life.
To tackle this phenomenon we first and foremost must impress upon our young people the absolute madness of engaging in this particular activity.
Of course young people are mainly influenced by their friends and peers, increasingly interacting online – so we need to appeal to all of those right-thinking young people to stop, and to try to persuade their friends to stop this so-called game. We need to persuade our young people to take a stand against the group-think and social pressure that allows behaviour of this nature to spread across social networking sites.
Of course, the Neknomination phenomenon is only the latest manifestation of the alienation this particular age cohort feels towards society. As long as they remain the most vulnerable to unemployment and the most susceptible to mental health and substance abuse difficulties, new self-harming high-risk phenomena will emerge.
We need, as a society, to start taking proactive action to help and support our young adults. Ideally this should commence in schools through comprehensive mental health and social awareness programmes arming young people for the challenges ahead.
It also involves creating designated supports and services. Although they are legally adults, they are in effect only emerging as adults, and in many ways find themselves between adolescence and adulthood. We need to acknowledge their particular needs and vulnerabilities and acknowledge that they need special consideration.
This all starts with the basics, ensuring that we invest properly and effectively in job-creation programmes for this age group. Equally as important, we need to create designated mental health and addiction services that are tailored to their particular needs.
St Patrick's Mental Health Services has an awareness-raising campaign aimed at young people called Walk in my Shoes. We need to start trying to understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of a young Irish adult in the Ireland of today, and understand what messages we are giving them, what future we are presenting them with.
Many will see Neknomination as just another social media fad that will pass with a few sad but inevitable casualties. But this perspective misses the point.
There is a growing awareness that Irish young adults are a particularly vulnerable group and that we need to act now to prevent many of them becoming serious social casualties.
If we do nothing, we risk losing this generation to hopelessness and despair. The future of Irish society depends on the young adults of today. We are creating the society they will inherit and we have a moral obligation to create a society that values them.
PAUL GILLIGAN IS A CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND CEO AT ST PATRICK'S MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES