Youth Mental Health: Why Are Our Youths Unhappy?

Youths are formally defined as individuals aged 19 to 35 years and informally defined as those with lots of energy, but no money. Worryingly, youth mental health is at-risk, with statistics to back this up. According to the Institute of Mental Health, youths make up nearly half of new patients diagnosed with a mental health illness each year.

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How is it that a first-world country such as Singapore can produce youths that are so…unhappy? While growing into adulthood is a rough process in and of itself, add crushing academic pressures, an uncertain job market, appalling costs of living and the pernicious influence of social media into the mix and you have a recipe for Poor Mental Health.

Let’s start with crushing academic pressures. I use “crushing” unironically. While educational pathways are increasingly diversifying, students are often “crushed” to fit a certain mould – the mould of the PSLE-to-O’Level-to-A’Level-to-University student. Tuition teachers earn more than schoolteachers, and weekends are just school at home, so that our students can successfully fit into this mould. The Youth crawls out, barely alive from years of being hammered with a relentless education system, only to emerge into…

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An uncertain job market. The job market in Singapore is increasingly competitive, and unless you majored in Computer Science, you have to send out resumes in the tens to the hundreds in order to secure a job. Indeed, more youths are turning to either freelance, part-time, or temporary jobs, demonstrating that notions of job security are increasing lost. Amidst all this uncertainty, the Youth still has to earn enough to save money in order to secure the 5Cs (Cash, Car, Credit Card, Condominium, and Country Club) and satisfy their nagging, aging parents.

Except the 5Cs are but a pipe dream for most. Skyrocketing house prices and a ridiculously high COE means that most youths will be happy to get the first C, if at all. If you are single and therefore ineligible to get a BTO, be resigned to staying with your parents well into your early 30s.

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Alas, perhaps all these won’t feel so bad, if social media didn’t exist. Social media takes all that is good about life and magnifies it –except that it isn’t the good in one’s own life that is magnified, but that of others. Your own life always seems terrible in comparison to others. To make yourself feel better, you upload pictures with angles that hide the stretch marks and smiles that hide the pain inside. Comparison is the thief of Joy, and social media is Comparison’s gang leader.

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This begs the next question: How might we improve the mental health of our youth? While there is no clear-cut solution, these three methods may be helpful. Firstly, youth should be advised to go for regular counselling, regardless of whether or not they have a mental health condition. This provides youths with a space for them to talk through their problems and release accompanying emotions. Secondly, youths who have recovered or are recovering from a mental illness can serve as invaluable resources for their peers. Such youths are shining examples that it is okay not to be okay, and moreover, that being okay is possible. Lastly, psychoeducation for youths can be improved. Social media can be utilised positively for this purpose. Instead of heavily edited, rose-tinted posts, youths can be encouraged to share their honest struggles with mental health. Honest sharing creates an atmosphere of mutual solace, while also serving a dual purpose of reducing mental health stigma.

Yes, our youth are unhappy. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Youth mental health, and importantly, mental health recovery should be talked about, because it is only by talking about it that we can start to do something about it.

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Authored by: Edina Tan. Edina believes that mental well-being is crucial for a life worth living, and hopes to help others towards this end. In her free time, she can be found meddling around in the kitchen, chilling on her bed, or hanging out with friends and family.

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