Sometimes something lurks beneath the surface for years until suddenly – bám – it becomes visible. In recent weeks, study after study on youth well-being has been published, and in general they have all shown the same thing: a growing group of students and young adults are not doing well. They feel lonely, anxious and stressed. Experiencing stress and performance pressure. One in six contemplate suicide.
Almost all of these studies say that the coronavirus is the catalyst that has exacerbated and accelerated existing problems. Since young people have not been able to go to school for several months as a result of the epidemic, and have not been able to go out and communicate with their peers only through the screen, they have missed a crucial stage in their development.
You just don’t realize it, says Jolien Dopmeijer. It’s been almost a year since the last lockdown, but the pain isn’t over yet.” As a student project leader at Trimbos Knowledge Institute, Dopmeijer has been researching student well-being for years. “The fact that everything is now possible and allowed again does not mean that It will work.” Some young people have become so lonely and depressed in times of Corona that they now find it difficult to make new friends, and integrate with a group.
Until the advent of corona, one in twelve young people was mentally unhealthy, then it rose to one in five
Dopmeijer says worry. Most psychological problems begin before the age of 27. If you don’t intervene during that time, it could have lifelong consequences.”
“Corona has explained what we have secretly seen happening in youth psychiatry for twenty years,” says Wouter Stahl, Professor of Child and Youth Psychiatry at Radboud University and Professor of Autism at Leiden University. Psychiatry and Youth Care.” “These are gradual processes that have greatly accelerated in the time of corona. Anyone who was already on the edge received a heavy blow and fell. These young people have been hit hard at a point in their lives when they need to socialize and find their place inPeer group“.”
Stahl sees the consequences in his counseling room. Young people with severe depression. who harm themselves. Young people with suicidal thoughts. And he sees a sharp increase in the number of girls – and increasingly boys – with eating disorders so bad that they have to be force-feeding. The waiting lists for all help are long.
stress and tension
“The image of our happy, happy childhoods has been damaged,” youth scholar Juniki Stevens said recently in a statement. Norwegian Refugee Council Celebrating four years Healthy behavior in school age childrenResearch that measures the well-being and health of young people. The latest measure showed an unprecedented deterioration in the mental health of young girls in particular. Here, too, the corona virus is the most obvious cause, but another problem lies in the background: between 2001 and 2021, the proportion of young people experiencing stress and fatigue due to school rose from 16 to 45 percent.
The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has also been measuring the mental health of young people since 2001. Tanya Tragg, chief social scientist, says the results show a fairly stable streak until 2020. “Until the emergence of Corona, one in twelve young people was not Mentally healthy, then it rose to one in five.”
Psychologically unhealthy people in Statistics Netherlands’ definition indicated in a questionnaire that they often feel tense, nervous and depressed. Other CBS studies show that the risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression among young people has increased, including before Corona.
“It may have something to do with the increased stress that young people are under,” Traag says. We also know that parents are more likely to sound the alarm if they think something is wrong. Better and diagnosed early. The taboo on mental illness is gone.”
Wouter Stahl says: “If you ask young people what bothers them, you often hear: We are always in touch. There no escape. Unlike their parents’ generation – the forties and fifties today – young people are under constant surveillance. Through each other, through their phones. And by their parents, who see not only the numbers via Magister, but also whether their child has done his homework, is absent or late.
Stahl says that parents are often very protective and raise standards. “It can lead to anxious and stressed kids. We live in a society that says anything is possible. You can achieve anything if you do your best. That puts a lot of pressure. Because if you don’t live up to expectations, if you don’t get a pre-education Undergraduate or graduate study, it’s up to you. Then you must be very sleepy.”
This “upward pressure” is reflected in enrollments to continue education: the number of students at universities has doubled over the past 20 years, while the proportion of students at MBO has declined.
‘They have to do a lot’
Stahl regularly speaks to parents who sound the alarm because their child is stressed or depressed. Then he asks: What does your daughter need in a week? “A full list follows: judo, hockey, piano lessons, tutoring… Too much, I say. Give this kid some rest. But, these well-meaning parents say, she has to go with the rest.”
At the end of last year, CBS conducted its first research on performance stress among young adults. Tanya Traj says something stood out in that. The pressure guys put on themselves turns out to be stronger than the outside pressure – girls feel more pressure than boys here too. Traag sees a possible explanation for this “internal” pressure in the key role of social media. This can have a positive effect, as a connecting factor in the social life of young people. But also negative, if young people are constantly measuring themselves via Instagram and Snapchat and want to create an ‘as cool as possible’ image of themselves in order to compete with the beautiful images of others.
There is also another thing: young people are worried about their future. Major social and geopolitical problems were hit hard. Study debts, housing shortages, the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis – the least of them will leave you exhausted.
But wait a minute: The parents of these little ones also grew up in a bleak world. The Cold War, the bomb that could fall at any moment, acid rain and high unemployment. Are they also like that?
Less so, Water Stahl believed, because society was organized differently. “Less individuality and performance oriented. If you can’t find a job, it’s not your fault, it was the fault of the system.”
The main question: what can be done about it? Can you make young people more resilient or happier? Can you reverse strong social currents, such as upward pressure and high expectations?
Yes, says Julien Dubmayer. “I see this generation of young people being hit hard, but at the same time they dare to talk more and become vulnerable. Watch YouTube stars and influencers talk openly about their mental health issues. It helps.”
In her daughter’s class, and she is in the sixth grade of primary school, feelings are often discussed. Dopmeijer says this helps, too. “You can teach children from an early age that it is normal for them to feel unwell from time to time. It is normal to ask for help. The sooner you start doing it, the better.”
At the same time, in many elementary schools, the seeds are sown for later performance pressure. From the first group, children are tested and divided into suns, moons or rockets – depending on the level of reading or mathematics. Then some parents anxiously ask why their child is not a sun. Dopmeijer says, “It’s okay to look at children’s talents, but try not to give them too much recognition. The culture of excellence has gone too far, and we need to break this cycle.”
There are two causes of mental disorders: predisposition and environment, says Wouter Stahl. “You can’t change your disposition, but the environment can. There is a profit to be made there.” How? “By talking less about high and low, and looking more at what a person wants and what they can do. What is your role in society? What can you add? You don’t say if you don’t get a diploma at the highest level. It’s time to stop this madness Literally rat race. We all have to act normally for some time.”
A version of this article also appeared in the October 8, 2022 newspaper