Ageism and mental health

Where is the voice of young people?

When I carried out some generic research (Googling!) on the relationship between ageism and mental health, all of the search suggestions and indeed the entire first page of results exclusively coupled the search phrase with the words “elderly” or “older”.

What particularly struck me about this was not so much the discussion of ageing and mental health, which is of course relevant, but the apparent absence of data relating to young people.  In no way detracting from the serious issues affecting the elderly, the voice of young people is seriously under represented in mental health and if this remains unaddressed there will be a big price to pay in the very near future as millions of people carry unaddressed problems into early adulthood and beyond.

Declining mental health in children and young people is a particular area for concern at present, seeing sharp rises in the numbers seeking professional help and reports of services unable to meet demand.  There are also widespread problems with Stigma that act as a deterrent to seeking early help that could prevent an issue escalating. Although attitudes are changing, prevailing societal perceptions that “young people have never had it so good” or “they have their whole lives ahead of them” trivialise and misrepresent an individuals experience and fuels stigma. Stigma in turn is still the most significant barrier to overcome to address the enormous problems that declining mental health is driving globally.

Conservative estimates suggest that 1 in 6 young people experience poor mental health and already, respected analysts Deloitte, are identifying that the financial burden on employers from mental health is weighted most heavily on young/first time employees. Yet programmes targeting prevention and health promotion can have a significant impact, not just on wellbeing but on that all important bottom line!

Employers can help support the mental health of their employees by investing in training and wellbeing programmes such as those offered by ABC life support.  Furthermore, by partnering with community interest companies like ABC Life Support, corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity can support similar provision for young people.  This is an investment not only in our communities but pays forward into future generations of employees who will create happier, healthier and more productive work places.

Notes

Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act of 2010, offering certain legal protections including the prohibition of discrimination on its grounds.

Ageism is defined as “the stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against people on the basis of their age”.

Written by Tony Sigrist, Head of Mental Health Delivery at ABC Life Support