Last week I delivered some mindfulness sessions in a school. I decided to frame it around happiness: the lack of it amongst young people and how mindfulness can help.
The statistics are quite shocking. Last year’s parliamentary Mindful Nation report cited that
- 30% of British adolescents report sub-clinical mental health
- The number of 15 – 16 year olds with depression doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s
- Over half of those experiencing mental health problems as children experience them again as adults
And it’s not only young people being affected: according to clinical-depression.co.uk there is 10 times more major depression in people born after 1945 than in those born before. Also, stress is now the most common reason to take time off work.
So what’s going to badly wrong in our society? I asked the 14 and 15 year olds I was working with, and the most common things they came up with were pressure to perform in exams, which is widely agreed to have increased over time, and social media.
As humans we’ve all got a tendency to compare ourselves with those around us, but the desire to show off to the Joneses has gone into over-drive, with many people now only having experiences so that they can post about them on Facebook.
We look at other people showing off their baby/tan/law degree/perfect partner/pet dolphin and we feel inferior. And we often respond by trying to come up with our own impressive posts to re-inflate our wounded ego and so the snowball keeps rolling.
Clinical-depression.co.uk points to a deeper societal malaise: the individualism and lack of emotional support in our society. They suggest that in Amish communities depression is unheard of because if you have a problem you know that people will help you and you in turn help others when they need support.
One of the big criticisms of mindfulness is that it’s inherently selfish. Naval-gazing in a silent bid to boost your own happiness with no concern for the collapsing society around you.
Some even accuse it of being a corporate/government conspiracy to make you feel that it’s your own fault, and not the system, that you’re unhappy, and therefore head you off from demanding change.
Personally I think both need to change. Imagine if you were suffering from depression, went to see your GP and they said “Sorry, I’d love to help you but we’ve got to undergo an economic, cultural, political and philosophical transformation as a society before there would be any point.”
There’s nothing selfish about it: when you work on your own mind through meditation and start to become calmer, more present, less fearful, more compassionate and empathetic, you naturally help others more even when you’re not doing so consciously.
I couldn’t take away the challenges those young people are facing, all I could offer were some tools and approaches for helping them to deal with them more skilfully. I also hope that mindfulness can offer young people a different view of what really matters – compassion rather than materialism, which could lead to some of the bigger changes needed in our society.