By Dyan Eybergen
Universities and colleges across Canada and the U.S. have seen incredible increases in the amount of students accessing mental health services. In 2011, Toronto’s Ryerson University’s centre for student development and counselling saw a 200 per cent increase in the demand from students in crisis. A University of Alberta survey the same year polled 1, 600 students and reported that 51 per cent within the last 12 months “felt hopeless.” Over half felt “overwhelming anxiety.” And seven percent stated they’d “seriously considered suicide,” and approximately one per cent made an attempt. Cornell University installed steel mesh nets at the beginning of the 2012 fall term under seven bridges surrounding the campus overlooking the gorges of Ithaca, N.Y.; these were the sites of 3 suicides out of 6 at Cornell back in 2010.
It has never been easy to be young. It has never been easy for youth to move away from their home towns, their families and friends and transition to post-secondary education. The pressures of making new friends, peer pressure, getting good grades, meeting parents’ expectations and living on their own for the first time have always been catalysts for depression. Yet increases in the demand for mental health services and suicide rates tell us something more is going on here. Why are today’s youth dying to get out from under the same pressures past generations found incumbent with going away for school? Two explanations come to mind:
Today’s youth are having difficulty shutting down the world around them. They can’t “unplug” and relax. They are consumed by social media; the constant need to keep in tune and in touch with the revolving world. There is more competition to get into post secondary schools than ever before: Tuition has increased and the acceptance of only the highest grade point averages is making top rated students from pinnacle high schools appear mediocre among the masses. And even with our brightest and best graduating, the job market being as it is in this current economic state, isn’t promising futures for too many. The unemployment rate in Canada this past July for youth between 15 to 29 years of age was nearly 12 per cent. Students feel they have no choice but to keep up and compete and the stress of it all is enormous.
Today’s youth are ill prepared to cope with major life’s ups and downs. Pressure, often coming with the territory of being young, is inevitable and not always removable. There is a tendency of entitlement among our youth today where many (not all) think and feel they should win at everything they put their hand to. As a parenting society, we have some responsibility to take here. As overprotective parents we made sure every kid got a trophy just for showing up. We wouldn’t allow a zero mark for unfinished assignments and we certainly didn’t want any child to feel bad or take ownership for their mistakes. We have rendered a generation unable to cope whenever something doesn’t go their way. So what do they do when they are no longer the smartest at school or they get a bad mark or are having difficulty balancing it all? In a 2011 study of U.S. Universities it was reported that 15 percent of students had cut, burned or injured themselves.
After car accidents, suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 10-24. We have to do something to help the youth of today manage the pressures of competing in a fast paced technologically driven society. We have to help them learn the necessary resilient skills to transition through life’s challenges. We have to care and nurture our children to find ways of helping themselves.