As a twenty-eight year old counsellor, landing right in the middle of the outspoken Millennial age range, I often feel like a bridge between today’s youth and older generations. In my role, I often hear judgemental and unfair comparisons of how "things were different in my day.” But cultural norms continue to rapidly change, and it is pointless to use this outdated, biased perspective as a measurement for our youth's current experience or future potential.
Within these rapid changes, the most interesting difference that I have observed emerging between generations is the destigmatization of mental health. I have begun to notice that young people are more comfortable accessing counselling, and tend to do so preventatively. In fact, it's becoming a rising trend in my field.
Mental illness in youth on the rise
The timing of this trend could not be better for two reasons. First, since the popularization of the iPhone, the younger generation has seen a sharp rise in anxiety, depression, and suicide. Meanwhile, their ability to cope with stress is diminishing. Second, it is my experience that preventative treatment outcomes are more effective and long lasting when compared to curative treatment of someone that is already diagnosed - or the mental health equivalent of exercising to reduce the risk of heart disease versus having a heart attack then receiving treatment.
However, even though the youth of today are pioneering and benefiting from the destigmatization of mental health, it's critical we continue working to change society’s perspective and translate this societal shift into real, tangible change in the way we approach mental health services and awareness. This will help young people struggling with higher levels of anxiety and depression to recognize symptoms earlier and have free, efficient access to a mental health professional.
Government needs to shift its approach
Predictably, our government is lagging behind. Those working to build mental health awareness in our governments are competing with Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook for our youth's attention. And the government is losing - bad.
The ways in which the youth of today consume information, which ultimately influences their choices, can be found exclusively on the App Store. Imagine if we took a creative and relevant marketing approach while providing free, accessible counselling for all young people.
Cameron Gibson is a counsellor (R.C.C) in Vancouver. Born in Scotland, his family immigrated to Vancouver Island where his introduction to the mental health field came through teaching skateboarding to at risk and marginalized youth in Campbell River. Nine years later, he has been lucky to work in behavioral modification, private practice, the school system, and non-profit organizations. He has drawn on these experiences to develop a unique therapeutic approach; specializing in supporting people with mental health diagnoses and developmental disabilities, as well as working with young people in challenging life transitions. During his work as a presenter he educates youth and their care-givers on topics like mindfulness, stress management, and guided meditation. As a big believer in the mind body connection, Cameron is planning to start his own practice in the fall, looking to combine exercise, movement, and therapy to help people improve physical and mental health simultaneously.
Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702617723376