It’s time to stop joking about mental health, because mental health issues are killing Generation Z in a crisis even worse than that faced by the older millennial generation. Since 2014 Generation Z has seen a 47% increase in “deaths of despair” – in other words, dying from suicide, alcohol, and drugs – an increase that is forcing mental health experts and governments to deliver “mental health first aid training” to communities in a bid to save lives.
From Hong Kong, to England, to the U.S., community healthcare services, schools and nonprofits are investing in first aid training skewed towards helping vulnerable people suffering mental health problems. Designed for parents, educators, medical professionals, police and everyday members of the community, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training touches on how to recognize risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, the value of early intervention, how to de-escalate a crisis situation and how to access healthcare professionals. The central MHFA concept is based on the ALGEE principle, A: Approach, Assess and Assist the person with any crisis; L: Listen and communicate non-judgmentally; G: Give support and Information; E: Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help; and E: Encourage other supports. Typically an eight to 10 hour course, MHFA training helps people identify, understand, and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses. Nurses and healthcare workers in particular stand to benefit the most from these courses, but they are designed for all in the hope that, for every course graduate, at least one person could potentially saved from the dark, inescapable reality of mental illness.
In England, where MHFA training was given to over 450 University of Northampton BSc nursing students over two years, both students and staff reported using their MHFA skills in a range of situations, from supporting colleagues having a challenging time in clinical placements, to intervention, support and access to specialist services for people who are in the midst of a severe mental health crisis. But the wonderful thing is that was both privately in practise, as well as in their own personal lives. The ongoing ripple effects within their own communities were profound, and in almost every instance too. For those who completed the two-day course and filled out a survey, 98 percent reported feeling confident in speaking about mental health with their peers, and 90 percent felt more confident in talking about their own mental health and wellbeing.
It is a sad thing indeed that no longer are external factors like infections the enemy – people are now their own enemies. From the early 1900s until the 50s, pulmonary tuberculosis was the leading cause of death for young adults, followed by polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and measles. By mid-century, motor vehicle accidents were responsible for most fatalities. But in recent decades, we have seen a worrying trend with respect to the leading cause of death in young people: that of rapidly rising rates of suicide or self-harm. It is deeply depressing to think that mankind has made such advances in medical science as well as in sanitation, nutrition and hygiene to conquer some of the most dangerous illnesses and infections known to man, to then have mental health pose an equally dangerous threat to one’s life expectancy. That’s right, as scary as the reality is, suicide kills more people than homicide, cancer, drugs and alcohol, and heart disease.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds, and over 800 000 people die due to suicide every year. On top of that, there are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. Mental health is very quickly becoming one of the most worrying social problems of the 21st century.
For men in particular, mental health seems to be a growing problem. Suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45, and compared to women, men are three times more likely to die by suicide in Australia, 3.5 times more likely in the U.S. and more than four times more likely in Russia and Argentina. This is an issue that has been very well-documented in recent years. Well-known sporting figures have come out into the open in recent years to speak publicly about their mental health problems, and mental health campaigns such as Movember – a global campaign that sees male celebrities and content creators speak openly about their feelings and mental health experiences to encourage other men to do the same – have done well at helping men start the conversation about mental health. Issues such as unemployment, a family breakdown, gambling, drugs, alcohol, even low testosterone all have the capacity to fuel growing mental health issues in men, all too often leading to self-harm and suicide.
“Many men throughout the country suffer in silence, in large part due to social and cultural pressures and outdated stereotypes of what it is to be a man,” said executive director of Movember US, Mark Hedstrom. “We have to change that – we’re losing too many dads, fathers, brothers, partners and friends. This campaign features authentic and relatable personal stories to break the stigma and empower men to be a man of more words.”
In the U.K., the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) has already set up a £30,000 funding pot dedicated to mental health first aid training.
“The £30,000 funding pot will help pay for nearly 250 NASC member employees to complete a mental health first aid course,” NASC president Lynn Way said. “This will go a long way to improving awareness and understanding of mental health and wellbeing issues in the workplace and enable NASC members to better support their employees if and when they need to.”