It is said that the root cause of teenage depression stems from our cultural obsession with ‘image over content’ and what one has, as opposed to who one is. Social media seems to propel a 24/7 hypervigilance in the minds of young people around the number of ‘friends’ one has, or ‘likes’ one gets, for a funny meme, gossip, video or post. Then there’s the number of ‘followers’ you might expect to have on Twitter, or the fear expressed by a parent that someone might troll, sext or groom their child online. It makes me deeply concerned about the psychological wellbeing and brain development of young people, especially in the light of neuroscience and neuroplasticity, which suggests that new neural pathways are created in the direction of our thoughts, which, when repeated, become habit and character forming.
Behind the veil of media footage there does seem to be a ‘race to the bottom’, where increasingly degenerate ‘reality TV’ programmes, infotainment, adverts and endless streams of advertising on the web may well be dislocating and desensitising young people from being, experiencing, playing and finding meaning within an extended kinship network and community.
Personally, I love technology and the endless potential it has to educate and inspire positive change but the endless incentive to make money from advertising, creating the latest sales platform, App or betting site algorithm seems to have erased our common sense and ability to visualise something different and life-affirming in their place. As a former teacher, I feel sorry for the kids caught up in this.
One sure way to re-orientate young people who have depression is to get them to write it all down, as it comes to them, in the form of a journal. Most of them will be taking Art and Design at school and from Year 9 they’ll be working on their GCSE, so why not get them to combine drawing, painting and ‘mixed media’ with writing, to help them fully express themselves? It might become a gateway for conversation. Check out my free site – www.creativity4wellbeing.com – it’s a great resource with a journaling section. I currently facilitate a free workshop for Young Carers (and people with Alzheimer’s) and I would like to see more done for vulnerable teenagers in the community along these lines. I am always looking to design courses and facilitate workshops with community groups and charities on a contractual basis.
A friend of mine is a principal for a progressive academy in Kent and she has brought in Mindfulness for her students, which is such a positive way forward for young people, with a practice(s) that can set them up for life. The positive outcome from learning to identify stressful and anxiety-provoking thoughts without following them is ‘evidence based’ and proven to make a difference.
School based counselling is available in most schools and CBT can be accessed through your GP. Mentoring can also offer a lot to young people, especially those who have not had the secure and loving childhood that most of us take for granted.
Perhaps one final way forward is to regulate laptop, tablet and phone use and read, play board games, cycle or go for a long walk instead.