Updated: May 11, 2021
Many of today’s teenagers have experienced, or will go on to experience a mental health crisis. Mental illness occurs for every one in four New Zealanders (1). Our youth/rangatahi are particularly at risk, showing increasing distress and self-harm behaviours. Anxiety, depression and suicide rates among rangatahi have been showing a disturbing increasing trend over the past decade. Generation Z are more likely to report mental health problems than any other generation (2). LGBTQIA persons and ethnic minorities continue to be disproportionately affected by mental health problems (3).
It’s common for people to get physical illness and anxiety confused. That’s because anxiety can often be located in feelings in our bodies. Examples can be: our heart racing, our breathing increases and is short and fast, our stomach is in knots or fluttering or feels like there’s a pit in it, we may be shaky, tense, or sweaty. Our mind may go blank, or the opposite – a million thoughts may be racing through our mind, overwhelming us. Sometimes, anxiety isn’t clear cut, and comes across like something else. This could be feeling sick, anger or irritability, trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing, avoiding school or school work, overplanning, or even negativity.
Feeling nervous and worrying are normal responses everyone has to challenging situations. Most people get anxious before public speaking, or an exam. These emotions can help us stay safe and get things done, but too much anxiety can affect our ability to feel good and function well. Once the threat has been removed, such as when the exam is over, usually our anxiety goes down. When anxiety is making us feel bad too often, or interfering with our day to day lives, it may be a sign that we need to reach out for help.
But reaching out for help is not always easy. Mental illness is often seen as a taboo topic. Young people feel at risk of facing judgement of their peers at a time when fitting in feels particularly important. That is why content that reaches out to rangatahi normalising mental health struggles is so important.
The recently launched documentary webseries Fight or Flight, by director Michelle Cameron, presents 12 young people sharing what anxiety and depression feels like for them, with honest testimonials and great animations. Having also suffered from anxiety herself, Michelle presented mental issues respectfully and very engagingly, in a way that rangatahi can find relatable. Content like this can help reduce stigma, encourage young people to talk more openly about mental health, and seek support.
Remember, everyone goes through tough times or difficult feelings at some point in their lives, and it isn't always easy or useful to try to deal with them alone. Talking to someone can help you to better understand yourself, discover your strengths, make decisions, and cope with difficult feelings.
All rangatahi have the potential to do well. Through building identity, confidence, hope and empowerment to determine their own futures, when whānau is valued and supportive, and intergenerational and cultural connections are strong, rangatahi can thrive.
We are launching soon our own youth blog section dedicated to youth experience with mental health and wellbeing, with weekly blog posts from diverse young people’s perspectives. It will be a positive, hope-focused and encouraging help-seeking space, showcasing young people thriving and connecting with healthful activities, resources and support.
WATCH THIS SPACE