It seems like every other day we see further evidence of particular groups in society finding it difficult to cope. Last week, Simon Jack’s deeply moving Panorama programme about his own father’s suicide, highlighted how middle-aged men are, in the face of multiple pressures, becoming increasingly suicidal. Yesterday, we heard that 1 in 5 teenage girls suffer from emotional problems, which are often exacerbated by social media-driven peer pressure. Even a whole generation (Y) can find itself anxiety-ridden as those born between 1980 and 2000 struggle with too much choice in how to succeed and not enough freedom to fail.
Clearly the triggers and accelerators for such depression and anxiety will vary from group to group but two factors that seem common to all are the fear of failure (however, defined) and the perception of isolation. In other words sufferers often believe that they are the only ones dealing with the fear of failure and that suppression is the only way to protect them from a society (digital or otherwise) which they feel will potentially reject, ridicule, intensify or ignore them, and thus further feed their fear.
While suppression is a coping mechanism of sorts, it can only hold back the flood of fear for so long. Lack of opportunity and encouragement for people to communicate or talk about their fears is another factor in the maintenance and acceleration of anxiety and depression. Some of this is driven by societal, cultural and gendered norms e.g. ‘men don’t talk about feelings’; some of it is a function of how communication itself has transmogrified e.g. ‘how can I talk to someone offline when everyone hates me online’ and some of it is simply, coping behaviour often learned from childhood e.g. ‘I’ve just got to get on with it, not talk about it.’
Given that others are so important to how we see ourselves, talking about ourselves and our fears to understanding and empathetic others has to be encouraged and supported – in families, in schools, at work and in institutions, and by governments.