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Time to talk about anxiety

On the Edge

On the Edge
Áine Ryan

MAYBE it is my age, but it used to be that the word ‘anxiety’ was not part of the mental-health lexicon. But times have changed, and now it is the buzz word for the huge impact the stresses and strains of contemporary life are having on all of us.
It is rather shocking to learn that the numbers of people discharged from hospital with anxiety as their main diagnosis has doubled over the last decade. This is according to HSE data published – through a Freedom of Information request – in The Sunday Times at the weekend. More concerning is that the figure had tripled for those aged under 16.
The various anxiety-related conditions were classified as follows: generalised anxiety disorder, mixed anxiety and depressive disorder, panic disorder, social phobias and agoraphobia.
Consultant Psychiatrist at Temple Street Children’s Hospital Ian McClelland said the figures could be explained by children who were self-harming being diagnosed with anxiety.
He told The Sunday Times: “Kids are checking their phones multiple times overnight – they have FOMO [fear of missing out]. They are setting their alarms overnight to check social media apps. They’re talking about their friends but, when you drill down, they’re talking about ‘friends’ that they on Fortnite [an online game], Whatsapp, and Snapchat with.”
Continuing, he explained how the insidious, drip-drip effect of online bullying is not properly understood, with its associated need for peer approval compounding the experience and culminating in poor self-esteem.

Impact of social media
WELL, it is not as if the pervasiveness of social media and gaming is breaking news, is it? Aren’t we all only too aware of the impact of social media on our lives? Have parents become too busy, too distracted by their own phones and tablets and televisions, to lay down ground rules about their children’s use of ‘devices’, especially after bedtime?
Perhaps too, it is time for all of us adults to lead by example by silencing our phones and putting them away during mealtimes. Indeed, create phone-free environments after a certain time in the evening.
Refuse to be available to the world while driving – after all it will ensure the roads are safer places in which to drive. Try putting our phones in the boot of the car for that trip to the shop or lunch with friends. From my experience, I have found that the world has not stopped spinning; Donald Trump is still alive and well and tweeting inanities, and my mobile has not melted or imploded when I retrieve it an hour later.     
Student report
TO confirm the depth of the problem further, a HSE-funded National Report on Student Mental Health in Third Level Education, coordinated by USI (Union of Students in Ireland), was also published last week. It surveyed 3,340 students on aspects of their experiences with mental health and mental-health services in third-level education.
The main findings revealed that 38.4 percent of students have experienced extremely severe levels of anxiety, 29.9 percent depression and 17.3 percent stress. Isn’t it dreadful that almost one-third or 32.2 percent received a formal diagnosis of mental-health issues at some stage during their relatively short lives?
What is happening to our children and our young adults? Shouldn’t they be filled with carefree hopes and idealistic aspirations about their future lives? Isn’t it time for some parents to stop living out their unfulfilled ambitions through their children? The pressure on them is too great.
Isn’t it past time too that we assess the impact of consumerism, the corporatisation of our culture? What was the point of challenging the autocracy of some aspects of the Catholic Church, only to capitulate to a new slew of dictators – big tech companies that manipulate our behaviour and fabricate our needs? And then there’s the supreme irony of Big Pharma anaesthetising the fall-out with anti-anxiety drugs and therapies.
Surely the best way to good mental health is by slowing down, taking stock, living mindfully and ditching our devices for at least some of our precious lives.