It’s no requirement of having Bipolar Disorder to be a worried teen. In all the cultures I’ve lived in and experienced, adulthood is a gauntlet of responsibilities and trials to be run and I’ve always been fascinated to see it assigned the same number: 18.
In researching this piece, I’ve had the uncomfortable experience of realising the relationship this number has with serious mental illness, namely the suicidal and self abusive tendencies that affect so many lives at this age. Various medical bodies and institutions have taken it upon themselves to point out the link between the daunting prospect of adulthood and one’s inability to cope but I wonder if they lack the ability to relate it to personal experience.
I’ve written about this period of my life before, taken in to consideration the privileges that were at my side (none greater than the support of my family) and the hardships too. Still, the conviction to harm one’s self was illusive in the face of the hardships that were already present for myself, my friends and my siblings at 18. Peeling back the demands of a life lead Islamic or a life led as a Bangladeshi (or even as a woman) still leaves a considerable amount of adversity for a young adult to deal with – and the wealth of research seems to support this. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine; which, at the very least, can boast representing a society with great ethinic and cultural diversity, attributes suicide to being the third leading cause of death in 15 – 19 year olds; begging the question of whether or not I should fear this number as my own children approach it. Surely the modern trappings of technology and infrastructure can cushion any blow my son or daughter could come to? Though there is a suggestion of the opposite.
The scene that has emerged over the past decade transports angst and social struggles to social media and it’s a solid situation for isolation. The one-time novelties of Myspace and AOL have given way to the responsibility of maintaining a consistent presence across several different websites and platforms; not just the big F as it was several years prior to now. These outlets, while supposedly part of a healthy social life, seem to offer little in the way of solutions; the world’s 18-25 population give their beefs, dramas, desires and despondence to these platforms and they do little to take them away, leaving an individual’s online presence as a sluiceway for angst and significantly worsening the issue.
The closest that a formal framework comes to isolating this problem is buried deep in the DSM – IV. It specifically lists ‘group’ peer pressure as the reason for a bright young thing to fade into a depressed, reclusive life. Of course, the internet is not a prerequisite for this kind of thing; when I was growing up every considerable kind of peer pressure cropped up over the course of my own adolescence, with my university experience giving an international perspective on which of these social cues appeared and when. It allows me to say that I think the disorienting speeds at which the trials and tribulations come to young people is being streamlined and it’s the same speed one could resonably expect a 16 year old to navigate a webbrowser. It’s a worrying alternative to having them do it at our pace but they’d rather we forgot about the idea. So we comprimse and a worrying trend emerges, one where these concerns are pacified in a much more materialistic way.
This is merely the latest in the wealth of traditions to come out of the United States alongside Proms, mandatory driving tests and the pinpoint precision with which any old birthday can be used as the basis of a Latino, Catholic or Semetic coming of age anointment. That said, it’s not as simple as the ‘Americanisation’ of these issues. A closer look at the social institution of the Prom or Bar Mitzvah or Quincenera will reveal a kind of catharsis in offloading one’s children and emerging from these ceremonies with an adult.
I say that’s not a binary switch, it’s a curve, a learning curve. What’s more, we’re only now learning what’s charted in it’s trajectory. This critical period uniting the age at which young people suffer self harm – 15-20 and also suffer the harm of being diagnosed with serious illness – 18-25 shares the same number as the age at which we feel it’s ok to take our gaze off of our children. In a world with blending cultures and thinning borders young people of almost any thinkable modern community can expect to agonize over dating (and the marriage precept it’s based on) their choice of degree, their choice of career and their choice of city. This happens all at once, at a time which is fairly arbitrary. But when it’s this distinct it’s predictable.
So, what can the previous generation do to be conscientious of this? I would suggest taking the usual modern tendency to put information about ourselves on the internet and reverse it. To accept the high number of problems facing people of this age as a higher number of opportunities to engage with them and help them. It’s a demanding optimism but I’ve never known any of the cultures that I’ve encountered to shirk away from protecting their children and from valuing the next generation; the yuppies of the era I grew up in were the same punching bag that millennials are now and we should be worried about the compassion fatigue.
By Lamia Islam