Enough is known about mental health to realise the enormous impact that environment can have upon it. Living costs in Ireland have escalated to a crisis point and are placing prodigious amounts of pressure on our generation, and it doesn’t look like incomes will rise to meet these costs anytime soon. From the accommodation crisis to the homelessness crisis, as a young person today it is difficult to maintain faith or interest in one’s upward mobility.
Older generations are often quick to criticise our generation, but this is hugely unfair: today’s young people have consistently struggled for the most basic of rights, from reproductive choice to housing, and have been instrumental in the mobilisation of many important political movements.
It is difficult to believe that our nation’s high rate of mental health problems and our extreme economic climate are mutually exclusive. A 2013 study from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland showed that one in five Irish people aged 19-24 were experiencing mental health problems. By the age of 24, more than half of young people are likely to have experienced some type of mental illness at a point in their lives. While the causes of mental illness tend to be a complex combination of biological, psychological, and environmental elements, this research identified risk factors such as work, health, and relationship stresses that are associated with mental ill-health among young Irish people.
A factor that can certainly contribute to “work stress” is the reality of a system which dictates that, in order to be hired for the vast majority of jobs, you must have attained a degree – regardless of whether it is beneficial to the job or not. This disregards the fact that there are multiple valid reasons why a person may not want or be able to attend college.
Paradoxically, as a student on a full SUSI grant I count myself lucky that I do not have to worry about paying my fees, and that I can live in my family home in Dublin. However, the reality for many others – having to find and pay for accommodation while simultaneously trying to afford groceries and other essentials and retaining some sort of social life – is completely overwhelming. Even a full grant could not nearly cover all of those costs.
In relation to the pervasiveness of “work stress”, it is interesting that the Irish government boasts about decreasing levels of unemployment and claims that the job crisis is over. While there may be more jobs available than previously, issues remain when it comes to finding reasonably paid jobs that treat their employees fairly. Until a living wage is brought in, we have absolutely no reason to feel proud of ourselves, especially with the rise of low-paying, or non-paying, internships and zero-hour contracts, which notoriously place enormous mental strain on the young people partaking in them.
Regardless of the pay, even the supposedly simple task of finding a job has become prohibitively difficult for today’s young people, as many have discovered in hours spent trawling job sites, finding hundreds of unskilled, minimum wage jobs that still insist candidates must have two degrees and a decade’s worth of experience.
“It is difficult to believe that our nation’s high rate of mental health problems and our extreme economic climate are mutually exclusive.”
Not being wealthy and well-connected makes it even more difficult, with many jobs being sourced through nepotism and cronyism disguised as networking. Additionally, the stigma surrounding being unemployed or on benefits does nothing to encourage change and help fix a broken system.
Like most young people, I have plenty of hopes and aspirations for the future, but currently the thought of that future seems terrifying. The often-made claim that “you can achieve anything if you work hard enough” is simply not realistic for the average young person today. Financial stability, finding a job, getting accommodation, navigating our rat-race culture; living up to these expectations impacts hugely on our mental health.
Significantly, health stress was identified as a major factor associated with mental illness in Irish youth. While it is natural that suffering from health problems would cause a person some amount of stress, these stress levels are certainly exacerbated by living under an expensive and failing healthcare system.
“Incidents such as the recent cervical smear test scandal have shown the contempt that certain areas of the health service and the government have for patients. Despite these gross failings, it is still expected that we will pay for a healthcare system that fails its patients almost daily.”
Under the Irish two-tier healthcare system, those without the means to purchase expensive insurance are denied access to better quality healthcare. Remaining on stagnant waiting lists for years puts patients under an enormous amount of additional stress. Incidents such as the recent cervical smear test scandal have shown the contempt that certain areas of the health service and the government have for patients. Despite these gross failings, it is still expected that we will pay for a healthcare system that fails its patients almost daily.
These failings are exemplified by Ireland’s chronically disorganised and under-funded mental health services. Even a simple doctor’s visit can be problematic for a young person when it means paying upwards of €50, plus prescription costs and possibly follow-up visits. Improving mental health can be like fighting through a vicious cycle, as the things needed to improve mental wellbeing often cost money too: from medication and counselling appointments, to even just spending time with your friends.
Improving the mental health of young people is tied to improving their sense of opportunity. It needs to start at the very core of our society, reforming the systems that at this time guarantee instability.