Eight years ago, at just 16-years-old, an English girl was prescribed anti-depressants by a medical professional and was taking them until another medical professional with a completely different agenda adopted her case.

As a scientist and doctor specialising in infectious diseases, this British doctor was increasingly concerned at the massive over-prescription of drugs especially anti-depressants, in the country. A TV program about this doctor and the young girl revealed she never received any ‘counselling’ about the causes of her depression. It seemed no one was actually interested in discovering why? Instead, the panacea prescribed was take a pill and just shut up. Indeed, while this doctor was able to reduce her anti-depressant medication by half over a period of a few weeks with ‘cold water swim therapy’ as researched at a university in Britain, he too did not seem interested in what the underlying causes of her problems were.

An article in The Age this week highlighted that mental health issues now rated in the top three concerns of 15-19-year-olds according to an annual survey of youth by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute. The mental health concerns have doubled in the past five years, increasingly affecting more young females than males. The top issues were coping with stress, school, study problems and depression, with high levels of concern about family conflict, suicide and bullying/emotional abuse. The survey found young people were turning to the internet as a source of help.

Perusing only the summary of the report, I am concerned that while the survey’s spokespeople strongly urged extra support and resources with investment in more universal, evidence-based mental health programs in school and greater community acceptance of mental health issues, it doesn’t seem they are addressing the root courses of the problems. Indeed, an article I read in The Age more than a decade ago revealed 12 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants in this country, with children as young as nine being prescribed them. I don’t believe our GPs or health system is intrinsically different to that of Britain, where doctors are prescribing pills as a quick fix instead of exploring why depression is becoming more pervasive among young people, and particularly, young females.

I am not able to provide answers as to the causes but I am concerned that it seems no one is even asking why? Why are so many young people unable to cope with stress and school et al? What is going on in their lives that translate into swallowing pills at such a young age? What role do doctors play, indeed, should they play? Are they just pill dispensers without any genuine care for their patients and/or interest in them as real human beings? Several of my girl friends throughout my life have taken anti-depressants and some are still ingesting them.

Moreover, in my adolescence, more than 50 years ago, I knew several girls who had mental health issues, including myself, but I at least struggled through and coped with family violence, bullying and emotional abuse to pass exams and create a life without anti-depressants. Other friends have told me they were also anorexic in their teens and I had friends who were so obsessed with body image and being overweight they swallowed ‘diet’ biscuits instead of trying to understand why they were over-eating and plump. None of them was obese.

Tragically, it seems no one is asking the questions to address what I believe are the problems of typical adolescence; a hard and difficult time full of angst and uncertainty, doubt and insecurity. That more females are reporting higher stress levels is not surprising as the stereotype for a young man may still be enshrined as ‘tough’, unemotional and reluctant to reveal mental health issues. What else is new?

I’m unsure as to whether life has actually become more complex and more difficult for young people today because of the internet, porn, cyber bullying etc as for young people this is just how life is. I had different but no less difficult issues to deal with involving sex and bullying, my looks and body image and family violence. While I couldn’t push a button to see how glamorous other young girls were, I perused teenage magazines of fashion and beauty as well as my mother’s women’s magazines to consequently feel just as unbeautiful and bedevilled by body image and appearance as much as I read about young people today.

Moreover, I felt intensely pressured to succeed in Year 12, achieve results to enter university (I needed to win a scholarship) and while I wanted to be a journalist, knew competition would make it extremely difficult for me to succeed. Moreover, my family didn’t know anyone in the media to help. I will blow my own trumpet by flaunting my success because I did it all on my own. I got the high Year 12 marks, won the scholarship to university and was awarded a cadetship a year later in journalism.

My family was also a violent one, albeit emotionally, my friends had no idea and I didn’t discuss it with them. I was also bullied though didn’t recognise it at the time just felt divorced from the social life some of my school friends seemed to enjoy. I didn’t have a boyfriend and that was hard to cop, too. Moreover, even with a handsome boyfriend, success in journalism and some supposedly good friends, I had ‘suicidal’ thoughts at 19, but understood through my reading of many psychology books and observation of my family and friends, that my ‘hate’ of myself was internalised by others contempt for me, indeed their selves they projected onto me. Choosing to ‘leave’ the family and travel overseas with my own money saved through going without lots of expensive clothes etc I ‘saved’ my own life, my understanding of self only increasing as I conversed with real people, enjoyed real relationships and was focused on the ‘real’ me not some false image expected of me by others.

In my 30s, my mother told me “You were spoilt” but I knew she got it all wrong because she didn’t have an inkling about what my issues were. And it did cause me great psychological problems later because people believed her, not me. How many parents actually ‘know’ their’ kids? Are interested? Have the time to really sit and talk openly and honestly with them? My mother was working full time and time poor too, and while she wasn’t a careerist as many 40-plus women are today, she was usually tired at night and had her own problems to deal with. I believe young kids today are ‘spoilt’ with all the wrong things such as the latest tech gadget, game or some such indulgence and spend too much time on social media instead of actually engaging in ‘real’ conversations with their parents, peers and others. Social isolation has been researched as a problem for young people who spend more time with a ‘machine’ than a human being.

The 50s adage “keep up with the Jones’” still seems alive and well and thriving in our social milieu with people increasingly fixated on having the latest and best of everything and investing money to ensure they do, their kids included. But there’s one emotional necessity you can’t purchase over the counter and that’s love; it’s actually free and there to be understood and appreciated and embraced for self at whatever age. Maybe if young people today are stressed out etc it’s their lack of self-love that could be the cause, succumbing to external notions of success instead of realising their own worth as thinking and feeling human beings. Maybe the tragedy is too many people, including their parents, are living outside themselves to attain others approval because inside they are empty and disapproving of self. Kids unconsciously absorb much of the psychological dynamics in their homes. Seeking help from their parents as the survey suggested, or indeed, their peers, may just exacerbate their stress. The internet, with objective research and studies, could be of greater assistance than their equally stressed out parents and peers, albeit unrecognised.

Learning to live for yourself, by yourself and through yourself, without being selfish, supercilious or insincere, is not easy and maybe that’s the real cause for concern. Too many young people expect life to be easy without problems or distress, believing the streets are paved with gold and all that’s needed is to follow the yellow-brick road. It’s a fallacy often unconsciously entertained by many people when the contrary is more realistic and more human but for many, simply untenable. Life if you really want to live it is tough, it’s hard, there are no quick fixes and overnight success; oft it’s a slog demanding lots of energy, hard work and going without, but if you love yourself, you can cope with a heap more shit than if you don’t. A pill will never do it.

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