Mental health and the coming generation

Over the past few days I’ve spent some time thinking about why so many young people are committing suicide in Ireland, the papers during the week carried a story about how a coroners court has dealt with a huge number of suicides in recent days… it’s heart breaking. The story got me thinking about the reasons why. I reached some conclusions which I thought I’d share.

There are a number of reasons why young people are killing themselves, many are case specific, familial or relationship problems for example, but there are a number of general issues which are responsible, in whole or in part, for many of my generation committing suicide.

The foremost of these is the state of the economy. Many readers will rightly point out that in Ireland poverty is nothing new, Ireland, for the vast majority, has always been a poor country. However, in the Ireland I grew up in I was constantly told by my parents, by teachers, by society in general, that my generation were the lucky ones. We never went hungry, we got new clothes, new shoes, new schoolbooks, new bikes, school uniforms with long pants, a bedroom of our own and we owned more than a mere shoe-box of battered toys. We had swimming, music and other lessons. Parents with well paying jobs, two cars and holidays further afield than Mosney or the Burren. We had nice things, flat screen TVs, sound systems, computers, pets who lived off more than leftovers. We had parents who loved to give us these things, things they never had. Was this really excess? Is it excess to live life with a degree of comfort, to do more than scrape by? Was it really excess to take a little of what, until then, was limited to the obscenely wealthy, when offered it? When a better life for them and their children was offered on a plate, or by cold calling bankers? Whose fault is it, those who were enticed to play the property ladder game, were told that the dice were loaded, that it was a sure thing and in this Celtic Tiger game St Patrick had driven away all the snakes and you could never land on one? Or is it the games master who hid the truth and had things rigged so he and his friends would win no matter what?

We had all these material things, but above all we had and have expectations. Expectations. Our parents generation had dreams. Dreams about many of the things we had as children but they never did. Dreams of a bright future, of going to college and getting an education. Dreams of getting a well paid job. Dreams of not having to emigrate. Many dreams of things which were beyond the norm of the day. I can’t tell you how many times my father has told me about the menial, soul destroying jobs he worked at from an early age, about how not one of his friends went to college, about how in general people lived week to week, how money was a constant worry. About how most of his friends emigrated. When I expressed disbelief he’d just shrug and say “That’s just how it was, and people accepted it and got on with things”. Then I’d be told how lucky I was that those days were over and how in todays Ireland you could make something of yourself with the opportunities. “You can be what you want, not what you have to be”.

This talk of dreams reminds me of a haunting line from a Bruce Springsteen song, it goes as follows: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” The thing is; dreams tend not to come true. Thats an accepted and expected part of life and growing up. As bad as it is when dreams don’t come true, what about when it’s expectations? Promises? The Ireland my generation were expecting, were promised, is gone. The promise of a bright future here is gone. The opportunity, gone. Jobs are gone, degrees useless. I’ve killed three years of my life in the futile wish that by the time I’m finished things will be back on track, the recession a minor blip, and the degree the door opener I was told it would be as far back as I can remember. But as that day draws ever closer I can see that it is not so. Emigration is back, hunger is back, poverty is back. The things we grew up with are gone, certainty is gone. The promised expected land is gone. In it’s place is bitterness, anger, resentment but above all hopelessness. We’re the only Irish generation that will tell our kids about how much better we had it than them, that we had more and experienced more than them. Not only are our hopes and dreams dashed, but our expectations too. And therein is the crux of the issue, the foundations upon which we were to build our futures and launch our lives off of has collapsed, the concrete never set and now we are drowning in it with the hopeless realization that for the rest of our lives we will never reach the high tide mark of the Ireland of our youth, our very lowest expectations of the life we would live are gone, a low paying job which would have been viewed by ambitious parents as a bit of a failure for their children given the country they were born into , even that for many is out of reach, it’s a struggle now to achieve even our worst case scenario. Our hopes and dreams are so far out of reach that we feel foolish for having had them in the first place. Sheer hopelessness. Older generations can cope better with this I feel because for them it’s a return to the way things were, but their “good times” are our “normal times”. What is “normal” for the older and younger generation is miles apart. One feels resigned, perhaps deep down they think that such a crash was inevitable, a return to form was sure to come some day. The other has no hope, no wonder some look for a way out at the end of a rope. Can you blame them? What is there to look forward to? Promises have been broken, expectations shattered. We haven’t even bottomed out yet. The worst is yet to come.

Anger, bitterness, resentment is one thing, but sheer hopelessness is another thing altogether. A lot of young people feel like this, but I’m not sure if they can articulate the reasons why they feel like they do. Suicide is a symptom of this hopelessness. But not the only one.

While this audience might be receptive enough to the above, my next point will perhaps be more objectionable to some. It being, the rampant abuse of alcohol and other destructive drugs by young people. Drink exacerbates the above feelings. Clubs are packed on weekends with young people drinking themselves to oblivion, many pretending to have fun, doing what is expected, drinking to get drunk. Have an honest conversation with young people, many will tell you that they don’t really enjoy clubs or going on “mad ones”. Most young people I know prefer normal pubs and conversation. Or other social activity with friends which doesn’t necessarily involve drink. That ain’t the “done thing” though. Subliminal peer pressure the silent majority go along with. For many, behind the forced laughs there are silent recriminations, internal resentment and bitterness festering and eating away. Mind altering drugs do not mix well with feelings of hopelessness as I described. This can result in suicide, it has other symptoms too, lashing out, violence, vandalism, etc, things which seem to give an illusion of control back to the person involved.

Yes, things are fairly desperate, very bleak, very sad. This is the legacy of corrupt bankers, corpulent developers, vandalizing self interested politicians, irresponsible, selfish, greedy, exploitative elites whose fall we have broken with our expectations, hopes and dreams. Atop this human rubble they stand, brass necked, still living lives of privilege.

I’ve always been a bit of a cynic, Benjamin the Donkey has always been one of my favorite characters. Yet as should be clear by now I haven’t exactly taken things very well. I can understand why many of my peers with a different mindset have taken things far worse and ended everything either directly or partly because of the things I’ve wrote about. Hopelessness as a backdrop exacerbates every other problem one may experience.

I feel a lot of anger, bitterness and resentment. Things do look hopeless, the Irish people are shell shocked and look like they are being enticed once again by the insidious politicians, or their lookalikes, who brought this desperate situation about. It remains to be seen, but the fog may yet clear and the Irish may awake once more. Every generation of Irishmen and women have rebelled, in part at least, at their intolerable situation. The pike may come out of the thatch once more.

But let’s face it, we might have had nice things, but many did not. Those who did were only loaned them for a short time and it looks like they will pay for it until they die. There was no great shift in the balance of power and wealth. We had some crumbs from the table, things we should have as a right. The Celtic Tiger was no utopia, that set up should not be emulated. That was as good as it will get with the current system, a few years of comfort for a large segment of society, followed by devastation. We mustn’t set ourselves up for a fall again.

My generation might never have the future promised us, but by god we can and must have our pound of flesh! We must lay firm, solid foundations for the future of those yet to come. We can either be a lost generation, or the builders of a better tomorrow. I’ll strive for the latter.

Saoirse go Deo    23 April 2013

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