According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 800,000 people commit suicide every year, accounting for the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally with rates higher for men. Millions more attempt suicide.
It is not easy working with vulnerable young people, kids that come from broken homes, have disabilities, or have experienced trauma both directly or vicariously. The pressure of fashion, weight and beauty, masculinity, cool gadgets that they likely cannot afford placing them at risk of being bullied and harassed in and amidst trying to understand their own identity both intellectually and sexually. They are often unable to afford or access healthy food that leads to poor eating habits causing sleeplessness, lethargy and challenging moods that only perpetuate the physical, emotional and psychological stress they are already in. Why not throw in the pressure to succeed, where they are told to work harder or get better or improve. Basically, they are told that they are not good enough unless they do what they are told.
How exactly do young people not implode? Lost, they learn to adapt themselves by following – some very successfully and others not so much – exactly what they need to do according to the dictates of their society. It could be a person getting tattoos, growing a beard and becoming vegan, using sexually liberal language as a tool to pretend individuality that ultimately hides their lack of talent and vulnerabilities. Or it could be a person joining a fundamentalist group committed to killing.
If a person is told that they are not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, they react in search for belonging.
What we think is “normal” entails certain consistent patterns of behaviour that we grow accustomed to until the enculturation completely seizes our capacity to think. The very cause of the illness acts as the remedy; a mother who is dominating labels a child who does not obey as “abnormal” and by completely eradicating their self-esteem through the threat of alienation from love forces the child to react in order to cure this feeling and feel connected, rewarded and loved.
People who follow the Kardashians and who change their faces and bodies, who feel desperate for some material item as though there is some defect to their existence without it, they are living with a mental illness, but because everyone else around them shares the same pathological condition, it is no longer considered insane.
“It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth. Consensual validation as such has no bearing whatsoever on reason or mental health. The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same mental pathology does not make these people sane.” ~ Erich Fromm
We manipulate, change, consume rather than relate, connect, and understand. When we react, we follow a standard that is socially acceptable and call that “normal” and so people are out of touch with themselves as they struggle to create the conditions that are necessary to achieve this recognition and acceptance.
When young people come to me feeling inferior, it is usually because they think they are different to this so-called standard, this social authority that is somehow unquestionable. They are reacting to a mechanism of, as Erich Fromm states, “an anonymous authority” that feeds off conformity. The success of your capacity to conform, the more likely you are socially connected that thus alleviates any tension from the threat of alienation.
To all those young people who have come to me thinking about suicide because you are unsuccessful securing the respect and admiration of a class of enslaved minds, find the strength to be happy in that alienation. This “anonymous authority” or “dominating mother” tricks you into thinking you are alone. Don’t be a stranger to yourself. Don’t imagine that somehow doing what you are told will give you happiness. As said by Camus, “thinking is learning all over again how to see.” You are not alone, there are plenty of us out there.