Back in the AS year at my sixth form, I remember vividly settling for an essay question in one of my General Studies exams: “The 21st century is the best time to be living. Discuss.” If this was not the exact phrasing then it was certainly very close. My memory is vivid because it seemed to my naïve seventeen year old self to be an obvious argument. I espoused the narrative that the statement in question was entirely subjective. For millions of people in economically deprived and impoverished nations, and for those in war-torn countries, it would be absurd to argue the 21st century was the ‘best’. However I made the mistake of glorifying the progress of the modern world, and in particular, the progress made within and by nations like the UK and America.

Aside from the comments I remember making about progress achieved in the medical field, I write today’s and subsequent articles to overwrite these statements about the glories of this century. Yes, some of you will regard this as just another cacophonous whine amongst the plethora of other articles that do the same. And yet, the very fact we still write and reiterate our despondency demonstrates the continued need for such words.

“They spoke of the beauty of primitive societies, those untainted by modern civilisation”

For one of my course modules this year (I study History), we were tasked with reading the works of philosophers Montaigne, Denis Diderot and Jean Jacques Rousseau at reasonable length. I found that there was something deeply resonant between their writings and my own thoughts. They spoke of the beauty of primitive societies, those untainted by modern civilisation – a world of simplicity and raw instinct. A world in which today’s worries and woes never existed. They believed that a humanity uncorrupted by wealth and capitalism was the pinnacle of human development and that all subsequent development was indeed more damaging. In times of such global hatred and greed, the philosophical narratives of these men is perhaps more worthy of consideration.

This article focuses upon what I deem to be one of the greatest tragedies of the modern world; the increasingly evident jeopardy of people’s mental wellbeing.

Recently I read Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’; a triumphant work that discusses Haig’s own personal battle with depression whilst simultaneously dispelling the stigma surrounding mental illness. Though perhaps medicine is advancing for horrific illnesses and diseases such as cancer and malaria, there is a new medical pandemic which is often misunderstood. It is one far less easy to diagnose, despite the technology we possess. This was also something I failed to account for in my own essay. By no means is this an attack upon the medical sector, but instead the modern world. Just for a moment consider the statistic that 1 in 5 of us is likely to suffer from depression at one stage in our lives. It is my firm belief that the modern world is predominantly to blame for the deteriorating mental wellbeing of millions worldwide, especially our youth.

“1 in 5 of us is likely to suffer from depression”

Social media is a more specific villain in disguise. Each day we are confronted with constructed realities achieved by people behind computer screens. We are active agents in depicting ourselves electronically in the best light possible. People are constantly comparing themselves to the dishonest realities that are updated every minute on the internet. Social media is a means by which people can prove they have a happy and contented life, leaving others yearning for the same level of contentment, or a renewed sense of failure.

The person who posts their smashed avocado on rye bread breakfast and the ‘selfie’ of themselves hitting the gym before their 9-5 may well be happy and healthy (come on, we’ve all done it). Nevertheless, this seemingly ‘successful’ and ‘happy’ person, by society’s standards at least, is unlikely to post a stranger spilling coffee down their newly pressed white shirt or how a colleague was rude to them in the printing room this afternoon.

Essentially, Facebook and Instagram and the like are just outlets of occasional truths with life’s realities concealed. This is of course, a double-edged sword. Social media is a great outlet for communication and connections.  However, it is also another outlet for cyber bullying and so-called ‘trolls’ to terrorise people from behind the safety of a screen.

Though our technology is glorified for its ability to make life run more smoothly, to connect the world, and to aid research, it also facilitates a far more dangerous realm for abuse and self-consciousness. It has enabled a virtual reality by which we can easily measure our own success or failure against the benchmarks of friends, or even strangers. How this can be denied as an inherent concern for the mental wellbeing and feelings of self-worth in people I do not know. I shall not, for the sake of brevity, begin to comment upon body image and the role of social media and the like. That is a topic for another article entirely…. Or three.

“God forbid we become society’s idea of failure”

Asides from just the social sphere of today’s world, the competition in the jobs market puts an incessant pressure on young people to achieve highly in the ‘real’ world. Exams, university, apprenticeships, internships, placements; we are all coached and heavily encouraged to follow a certain path. To achieve all that we can. However, this is often at the detriment of our mental wellbeing’s.

Is there any wonder at all there is such a strong drinking culture and increasingly evident drug culture in the UK with all the pressure placed upon our young people to be society’s idea of ‘successful’? A society so obsessed by wealth, elitism and greed has fostered an ever-growing jeopardy. Many of us attend universities because we are often encouraged to, and in order to enjoy the privilege of a further education we must now invest thousands into ourselves to achieve the high-flying city jobs our hard work has striven us to attain.

Gone are the days when we can afford to explore our own vocations. I personally desire more than anything else to explore the world and truly ‘live’, and yet I find myself planning the next few years around what society at large thinks I ought to do. Attend university, find an internship, get myself settled into a graduate job – as though that were some easy feat. I feel trapped in a web of expectation with little room to pursue much else, perhaps even the very notion of failure in itself we all seem to fear so much. Yes, we ought to be thankful for these opportunities and the access to education many of us can enjoy. However this does not negate from the fact that this very privilege in itself, and our knowledge of this, makes the pressure upon us all the more crushing. And of course, social media is the outlet by which we can all boast of our successes whilst disregarding the emotional toil required to achieve them.

God forbid we become society’s idea of failure, castigated as the causes as well as symptoms of ‘Broken Britain’. Leaching upon the state and treated to some fifteen minutes of fame on a documentary delightfully entitled ‘Benefits Street’.

It is nothing new to tie the recent rise in cases of mental illness to the state of modern society. But hopefully this articles casts some light upon some of the issues I personally feel to be ubiquitous today and some of those to blame for this increasingly evident and worrying pandemic.

 

Alice Gossop

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