Young people helping to disrupt the norm around mental health treatment discourse

Written by Dafydd Jones

Young people have been at the forefront of raising awareness and publicly sharing their stories of mental illness. Our recent in-house work on Generation Z at RDSi found that Gen Z are the first generation to fully embrace the importance of mental health. They are highly concerned about their futures, they feel more stressed and hard done by versus their parents’ generation due to fears around social mobility, housing and the environment. However, instead of staying silent, Gen Z have a point of view on this. They make use of social media and the technology at their disposal to spread the word on mental health, giving advice to others and demanding that brands play a greater role in global and societal problems.

There has always been a negative stigma attached with mental illnesses which has caused people to stay silent with their problems and avoid seeking any help. However, over the past decade, we have seen public discourse shift. The awareness surrounding mental health has been raised significantly through the campaigning of charities and high-profile individuals, such as Prince Harry, speaking publicly about their own mental health issues.

Behind this drive-in engagement from young people are statistics that have made for grim reading. Per the Guardian:

• 16 million people in the UK experience a mental illness at some point each year.
• Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 35 in the UK.
• 75% of young people with a mental health problem are not receiving treatment and the average wait for effective treatment is 10 years.

When big pharma companies introduced Prozac (and a whole range of similar mental health medication) in the 1990s, medication was anointed the future of mental health treatment. However, this assumption is now being challenged. During 2018 Mental Health Week, I went along to an event called ‘Young people’s mental health: what’s society to do with it’, and 6 charities spoke about how a more preventative, not medicinal, approach is needed to help those with mental illnesses. Medication is still the leading treatment for any sort of mental illness, with prescriptions for 64.7m items of anti-depressants dispensed in England in 2016. This is due to most of the discourse surrounding mental health over the past couple of decades being centred around the medical prognosis of mental illness, which is a chemical imbalance (from birth) in the brain that causes people to feel depressed or anxious.

However, an increasing number of charities oppose this stance, favouring a more preventative, not medicinal, approach. Nicky Forsythe, a psychotherapist working with the charity Talk for Health, argues that prevention equals increased emotional literacy and it gives people a greater capacity to connect, making them happier and more confident as they build relationships with those around them. As Alexander Den Heijer once said “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”.

Charities argue that an individual’s experience, their upbringing and the environment in which they grow up, can have adverse effects on their mental health both at present and in the future.

Societal and political changes can also have an impact on people’s mental health. Psychologists for Social Change argue that the past 8 years of austerity have caused social angst within the population, with the number of people who were prescribed anti-depressants rising sharply. We currently live in a world where material success is what drives people, and when this aspiration isn’t achieved, it can have devastating effects on people’s mental health. A cracked society can cause people to crack themselves.

Young people are taking a stance, initiatives are being implemented within schools, creative enterprises and charities are working in partnership to promote peer-to-peer therapy sessions. If you would like to find out more about our Gen Z work and our work with charities please don’t hesitate to contact Dave Power / Dafydd Jones on /