Have you heard about the silent epidemic stripping young people all around the world of their potential and future? It is called mental illness.
Ask a parent or teacher how to treat any common childhood illnesses and they will have an answer. Ask the same question about childhood mental health problems and few of them know.
Yet mental illness is one of the greatest disabilities young people face and the cause of the second-highest number of deaths among those aged between 10 and 24.
For that reason, World Mental Health Day, on 10 October, this year is focusing the call to action on young people and their challenges in our ever-changing world.
While we all know that adolescence is a time of great physical, social, and emotional growth, few of us are aware that it is also the time when more than half of all mental health problems emerge. This makes adolescence a critical time in young people’s lives.
Sadly, around the globe an increasing number of young people are feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of school and life. Thus one in 10—and, in some countries, one in five—young people are developing mental health problems at a time that should be the prime of their life.
One of the greatest changes in the lives of young people today is their day-to-day interaction with technology and social media. While they have many positive attributes and advantages for young people, researchers are concerned about the mental well-being of young people and the rise in mental illnesses. The worries are about:
- Excessive time spent online
- Too much information being shared
- Cyber bullying
- The influence of social media on body image
- The sourcing of harmful content or advice, such as websites and social networks that promote self-harm
Numerous surveys and studies around the world have explored the relationship between the amount of time spent online and young people’s well-being. These studies highlight the fact that the more time spent on smartphones, the Internet, and social media, the greater the probability of the young developing a mental illnesses, compared with those who occupy themselves with non-screen activities, such as exercising, reading books, and interacting face-to-face with people. Yet in many countries, a growing number of young people are choosing to spend their time using technology to interact.
According to a 2016 study by the US-based Cyberbully Research Center, over 30% of young people have experienced cyber bullying and many have done so repeatedly.
Here in Japan, as people come back from their summer vacations and school resumes, the number of youth suicides spike. Not only have they been increasing over the past few years but, even more worrying, most young people are not speaking out about their struggles or seeking support.
A 2014 study in Japan, examining young people’s attitudes towards mental illness there and Australia, found a stigma attached to mental illness in Japan. Many Japanese youths view a person with mental illness as weak—rather than ill—and, often, as dangerous.
Such attitudes leave young people with mental illnesses trying to hide the issue and exhausted. Many feel weak and a failure, and that they have no person or place to which to turn—and no hope for the future.
Education about mental illness in schools is urgently needed in Japan, especially for at-risk populations that are more likely to fall target to discrimination and bullying, such as those with developmental or learning difficulties, LGBTQIA students, or biracial and migrant youths.
Mental illnesses are treatable, discrimination is unacceptable, and preventing suicides is entirely possible.
Open communication is the first step to preventing mental illness in young people, and to breaking down the stigma and barriers to support and treatment.
Often, teachers and parents think that talking about mental health problems, and in particular suicide, might implant the idea into a young person’s mind. This is a myth. Talking about suicide and mental illness is the best form of prevention.
Each one of us can play a vital role in the prevention of suicides and ensuring young people live full and happy lives. We can do so through the simple acts of caring and listening.
On 9 September, TELL launched its Give Hearts for Life campaign as part of its month-long activities around World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, and World Mental Health Day on 10 October.
During the Give Hearts for Life campaign, TELL is asking people around the country to write words of support and encouragement to those struggling with mental health issues on hearts that are orange, a colour which signifies compassion and care.
TELL is sharing these messages on its social media platforms throughout the month. Our goal is to receive 21,140 messages to mark the number of lives lost to suicide in Japan last year, and to let those struggling with mental illness know they are not alone.