Reaching out to depressed alienated youth

One of the main themes of the recent month-long synod of the youth was the emphasis on the very concept of synodality – a move towards decentralisatio

Nov 03, 2018

By Anil Netto
One of the main themes of the recent month-long synod of the youth was the emphasis on the very concept of synodality – a move towards decentralisation in decision-making in the Church that was first set in motion during the Second Vatican Council just over half a century ago.

The 60-page document released at the end of the youth synod emphasises the importance of moving towards synodality and common discernment. The focus of this synodality should be on the poor and the most marginalised and vulnerable and those who have no contact with the parish.

Certainly, we have been called to move outside our comfort zones and reach out to those on the fringes. And this focus comes none too soon. In our world today, many have been alienated by the pressures of modern-day capitalism, which has increased disparities between the wealthy and the rest and exploited workers and the environment. Would such alienation not spill over on the youth of today?

A Malaysian national mental health survey in 2017 found that many teenagers from 13 to 17 suffer from mental health problems: 18 per cent suffer from depression, 40 per cent from anxiety and 10 per cent from stress. Worse, 10 per cent of these teens had thought of suicide and alarmingly, 7 per cent had attempted it. Suicidal behaviour was highest among Form One students. Thoughts of suicide were most prevalent in Kuala Lumpur (13 per cent) while Perak (9 per cent) had the most attempted suicides.

It might be too easy to blame it all on the education system and the exam-oriented culture as the source of the stress and anxiety, when the problem might extend well beyond that. We might also think that this is something peculiar to Malaysia, but the grass is not always greener on the other side.

An Australian friend of mine, a teacher and lecturer, wrote to say that mental health is a serious issue over there as well. He wondered if social media could be part of the problem: “Social media is pointed to as a major cause of mental affliction amongst the young here. It has been suggested that they see online life as the ultimate reality” when the rosy images they come across may not really be what life is all about.

Increasingly, he is also coming across cases of young people in Australia who are unable to cope with life. “I’m meeting grandmothers who are looking after their adult grandchildren.

The grandchildren are losing the plot.” But perhaps the problem extends beyond schools and social media.

Perhaps the globalised economic system that concentrates wealth in a few and the pressures of socio-economic injustice for the rest could be the problem: “People don’t seem to be handling life that well even here (in Australia),” said my friend. “Money is a problem for many families and like in Malaysia they are being hit by increasing prices and no increase in wages.”

“Company profits are up, stable fulltime work is down and there has been no increase in wages for many years now. I think the wage situation is a worldwide happening. Utilities and housing costs are up and up. Rental accommodation is expensive; houses prohibitive for many who don’t have enough stable work.”

Thus the socio-economic pressures in a ‘competitive’ world as community solidarity erodes could be the biggest challenge we face. In fact, my friend felt that ordinary Australians had lived through better times in the past – ie before the pressures of modern day corporate-led globalisation.

The pressures and anxieties felt by many ordinary working class families who are struggling will undoubtedly spill over on children and teenagers growing up in an increasingly uncertain world. And all the while, the gap between the wealthy and the rest of the population widens. And what about the children of refugees who are not even allowed to go to school here.

As Church, we should be aware of the problems facing the young that not may be peculiar to Malaysia alone. This is why we need to focus on building community solidarity in the world at large and within the Church as well, so that we can take care of the most vulnerable in our midst. We need to be in touch with the youth, to discern and analyse the real sources of their alienation, stress and anxiety.

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