Newspapers are reporting mental health crisis as fact, despite official statistics showing no significant increase in mental illness in younger people. Many reported surveys do not refer to diagnosed conditions but self-reported feelings, and articles rely heavily on expert opinion.
The Guardian claims to represent the views of campaigners, politicians and therapists, as well as students, yet a mere eight of its reports consulted the profession responsible for clinical diagnosis.
In the Daily Express, psychiatrist Sami Timimi warned against the turning the angst of adolescence into a diease, remarking that ‘instead of alleviating problems we are creating a group of people who believe they have enduring mental health problems.’
Newspapers are contributing to a panic, which criminologist Stanley Cohen defined as ‘a situation in which public fears and state interventions greatly exceed the objective threat posed to society’. Cohen recalls how was the reaction to ‘mods and rockers’ in the 1960s was presented as a social emergency by politicians and the media.
However, whereas older generations have traditionally chided teenagers for antisocial or dangerous behaviour, the youth of today is seen as endangered. The siren has been shriller in the broadsheets, possibly reflecting greater mental health awareness and among middle-class parents but also a cynical means of selling more newsprint.
The impact of the Covid-19 regime, however, is likely to dwarf what people regarded as a mental health crisis prior to March 2020. In a BBC podcast ‘Generation Covid’, King’s College London researcher Sally Marlow said: –
‘Rates of mental illness were already escalating pre-Covid, and services and treatment to support those struggling were woefully inadequate. Add to that social isolation throughout lockdowns, uncertainty about exam results, and parental anxiety about jobs and finances, and all the ingredients are there for mental health to worsen.’
The panic over mental a health crisis in younger people has been displaced. Instead of vulnerability to anxiety and depression, virtue is now signalled through fear. This is troubling, because generation that is not only morbidly fragile but terrified will be easily controlled by their masters. But for many, as Jean Paul-Sartre observed, freedom is too stressful.