Steps to positive mental health in an online world

Donal O’Keeffe asks mental health advocates how young people can learn to survive in a world short on empathy, where popularity is measured in ‘likes’.

Dr Harry Barry

For young people to survive in an ever-changing world, they need to develop emotional resilience.

This involves learning key skills and insights such as recognising and acknowledging emotions; coping with the unfairness and uncertainty of life, and becoming comfortable in social situations; learning to banish the physical symptoms of panic attacks; the importance of empathy, and the art of conversation. How to problem-solve and become more pragmatic; realise the world won’t change simply because we would like it to; and how to resolve interpersonal conflicts.

Most of all it involves learning to accept themselves unconditionally as the wonderfully special, unique human beings they are, while taking responsibility for their behaviour. This is how to safeguard mental health.

Dr Harry Barry is the author of Emotional Resilience: How To Safeguard Your Mental Health.

Tara Flynn

I think the most important thing to remember, whatever your age, is that no-one has anything figured out.

People may seem sorted, they may even seem wise, but deep down, nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all muddling through and doing the best we can.

So the biggest bit of advice I could offer (including to myself) is to remember that everyone is struggling, regardless of how things may appear.

Knowing that makes me feel less alone when I’m struggling. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re falling apart when everyone else has it together. But they don’t, certainly not always. Sometimes, I put on the biggest smile when I’m feeling the worst.

I think there’s a lot of that about.

Tara Flynn is a writer, actor and comedian. Her latest book is Rage-In.

Jack O’Rourke

John Prine wrote “sweet songs never last too long on broken radios”. We live in an age of chrome and steel where we, “the broken radios”, upload our best selves and lives online. Our sweetest songs are silenced through cries for likes and attention.

As voyeurs, we watch our friends uploading similar snapshots of utopia. It makes us feel inadequate, because comparing leads to despairing. As a teacher, I can see the impact of the internet and social media on the psyches of my students. The need to connect, while real connection is lost.

Self-promotion online has led to a lack of empathy. I know this myself as a working musician. Aretha Franklin sang “gotta find me an angel”. We all need a few mortal angels in our lives, but our seraph selves can reach out beyond a screen and show a little compassion, in the real world.

Singer-songwriter Jack O’Rourke teaches in Gaelcholáiste Mhuire AG An Mhainistir Thuaidh, Corcaigh.

Michael Healy-Rae

Modern technology is great if it’s used in moderation, and if it’s not using us.

All of us, not just young people, can lose perspective if we spend too much time staring into screens. You can go into any restaurant and you’ll see people sitting across from each other and they’re looking at screens and not at each other.

I think we all need to be a bit more positive about ourselves, and about others, and spend a bit less time online.

Michael Healy-Rae is a Kerry TD

Senator Lynn Ruane

The world may be changing but one thing remains the same: Building relationships with young people will happen on their time and in their own environments.

Opening a service in a working-class community and opening your doors is not enough. You will only ever meet a fraction of the people who need your services. The ones least likely to walk through your door are often the ones that need you the most.

Spend time in youth clubs, youth- reaches and get to know the local sports teams. Walk up to the lads in the middle of the field or hanging out by the corner of a wall. Yes, the world is changing, but the need for outreach, relatability and flexibility remains the same if we are to reach the young people who need support the most.

Before entering politics, Senator Lynn Ruane worked for 15 years as a community worker in west Dublin. She is the author of the memoir People Like Me.

Dr Ciara Kelly

Younger people aren’t living in the world in which I grew up, and I think in many ways it’s a much more difficult world.

I think if you live your life online, where things you post can be validated by likes and you almost feel like you can quantify popularity, you’re living in a place where there’s less empathy and everyone is more likely to attack what they don’t like. That’s a difficult place to negotiate in your 40s, let alone in your teens.

I think mental health has always been a challenge for younger people, but I think we live in a particularly difficult time, where you can often feel under siege. However, I do think it’s important to remember there are positives too.

Nowadays we feel more comfortable talking about our mental health, and hopefully the message is getting across that it’s ok to not feel ok.

Dr Ciara Kelly is a GP, journalist, and broadcaster.

If you or someone you know is affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can get help by phoning the free Pieta House 24-hour suicide helpline on 1800 247 247 or, alternatively, by phoning the Samaritans at Freephone 116123.

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