Why youth mental illness is surging
"Sure, many of the misfortunes that befall you will not be your fault, and you’ll often get knocked down no matter how hard you try to resist. But if you seek explanations for your suffering in things beyond your control, you risk falling prey to a culture and industry that are motivated to keep you feeling ill. So never blame on your circumstances [for] what you can blame on yourself. Look within for the causes and, most times, within you’ll find the cures. Modern society will tell you otherwise, but it’s within your power to defy it, for you are not a helpless leaf in the wind but a mind that holds a world, which, depending on how you think, can be a hell in heaven, or a heaven in hell."
Fantastic advice! Far too much of the "helplessness" we might experience is learned, or maybe I should say, "taught" by those hoping to gain advantage, either political or economic--and maybe even both--from our internalization of that helpless feeling. Of course, their ability--and only THEIR ability--to help us, is part of the bargain!
As a left-leaning Long Covid sufferer who has used self-motivation and CBT to cope with the condition, I strongly support your conclusions on therapy. However, you spend much of the article going on about 'Leftists' and implying people who (by your own conclusion) need CBT support are imagining their problems. This sets a certain tone that could be used to denigrate those people. You also don't address the possibility that right wing people bottle up their problems or are to proud to ask for help.
On "self-derogation", for some, the damaging effects of being online (not just in what would typically be called social media platforms) can come from reading brilliant pieces by very smart people (such as the current blog post!) and then feeling that one's own writing is futile. The internet (and especially Substack) lets us see the thoughts of the very best (and most prolific) thinkers and writers. It's easy to ignore the fact that these are a tiny fraction of the population and that we can still bring value. I haven't seen this discussed but I think it's a real thing.
A well written piece indeed.
Now, isn't the solution for this sky high mental illness going back to the roots? Which is Faith and Family? Mind you, it's not a question of being conservative. Instead, it's all about common sense and returning to timeless values.
You speak of CBT and Stoics, but look closely and its all a spin off/knock off of spiritual/religious traditions from all over the world.
Likewise, if young 5 yr olds don't have any parent at home, how can they foster deeper connections that teach them love and resilience?
I'm seeing this up close here in India as the country rapidly grows--all of a sudden, in a matter of 5-10 yrs, strong resilient structures of faith and family are being smashed, and you see it's impact on growing kids-- they may know their Spanish and piano, but peel the veil and you sense a disturbance.
A nameless, gnawing sickness of the soul.
No government, day care teacher, doctor or celeb can give you daily doses of love and strength. It all comes from strong, happy families.
I think your analysis has some good points, but I'm not sure the solution is sufficient. Sure, CBT can be helpful, but then again if it were so helpful then wouldn't you'd think all the young people going to therapy would be getting less neurotic, not more? We'd expect to see some effect I'd think. For all the weird, out-there kinds of psychotherapy you can find, still most therapists are trying to help their patients be more functional, healthy, sane, etc. So I think there are still unanswered questions and the dynamic is complicated.
But I agree that the pathologizing of everything is a problem. We should remember, though, that objectifying our inner problems is not new, and is a very natural thing to do. Some cultures may use demonic possession or magic to explain mental illness. In daily life we might say "sometime came over me". etc. A teenager may explain her unhappiness by saying "I have generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymia."
Taking ownership of one's own unhappiness is important, but difficult.
Thanks for writing.
I started laughing within the first minute of reading. Why? Well, I'm sure many other readers know that feeling when you know instinctively that what you have been seeing and hearing is sad-case bullshit and self-pity but you haven't been collecting the research evidence to make your case. So you shrug and keep your thoughts to yourself. That's why I started laughing. Because here was Gurwinder saying what I instinctively felt was true, but in a way I'd never had the time or intellectual precision to assemble. I'd like him to write a piece on the dilemma facing lifelong liberals who still cling to rationalism and are faced with the realization that we need to hand in our badge now that liberalism is so intolerant, judgmental and authoritarian. Pity the children (those that survive).
Great article Gurwinder. Thankyou.
Great article. Thought provoking and much to argue about (in a good way).
I wasn't very convinced about left politics causing mental health problems though. In fact I would guess that causation was mostly the other way round? In my limited experience, 'sensitive souls' often seem to gravitate to "compassionate" and charitable causes i.e. leftism. Either directly, or because of the financial consequences of mental health problems. Or possibly the mental health consequences of financial problems (many confounding factors relating to financial security and health as well).
No insights to add. Just a thank you, for an illuminating and persuasive piece that I'll be referencing in my next article.
This is too long and involved for me to have a chance in hell at rebutting debate-club style. Yet for all the excellent questions raised, the overall shape you end up with feels incongruous. To the degree that this is generational, I’d submit it’s primarily the full-throated, wide-spectrum rejection of 20th century artefacts. At the macro level, we are stampeding headlong towards quite a dark place. Is continuity of tradition out of mere habit such a great idea? Teenagers in particular dedicate so much of their brain-development quota to coming to grips with a society that has become (I propose) toxic to our souls. If I came of puberty today, I hope I’d find utterly surreal the idea of shouldering any inherited manifestation of masculinity. If I were brave enough, I hope I’d find a different path. Would I be able to articulate precisely why? Certainly not. But most of the time I believe we know what to do long before we know why. Gender is societal. If society is broken, so is gender. Dysphoria can’t always be caged in biological terms or even isolated from other goopy patterns in our communal vocabulary of identity building blocks. Surely it’s well-understood that even self-harm is often just acute distress, at a level too fundamental for words; some attempt to assert control against the ceaseless programming we levy against our young. Let them go wild, I say.
Fascinating, thought provoking, and brilliantly written! I will read this again, for sure. Thank you for your time and efforts!
A great and timely article. The negative impact that the Pathologization Pandemic will have on our society and economy is massive. The institutions that should serve to protect our children are not doing so. Kowtowing to idealogy and corruption rather than truth. A perfect storm of neglect, naivety, compassion and greed.
Great article. As a soon to be father of a girl I am concerned about this deterioration of girls' mental health. I intend to teach her of her inherent value and her inherent power to make her own world.
Thanks for this article. Liked your ending of paraphrasing Milton's Satan!
Are you aware of high school curricula that incorporate CBT and then track the results?
I was School Board Chair of the Riverdale Country School about ten years ago when our headmaster incorporated Character into as many parts of the curriculum as made sense. One of the foundational principles was "grit."
Excellent work on this. While there may be some correlation/causation confusion in the general public regarding personality, politics, and pathologization of any illness (physical or mental), the end result is the same: people don’t know how to think for themselves nor do they look for solutions. Instead they wallow in despair, affirmed by psychology and pharma.
Who benefits from a weak populace? Follow the $$.
I've read this several times over. This is so fucking brilliant it hurts.
Great piece. One component I might add relates to the more cynical and dark side of things: the weaponization of aspirational victimhood for personal gain. René Girard referred to this as “victimism, which uses the ideology of concern for victims to gain political or economic or spiritual power.”