Physician & Author Gabor Mate, via a kind reader’s email:
Among the major challenges we face, as a society, is the widespread lack of resilience of many young people. Resilience is the capacity to overcome adversity, to let go of what doesn’t work, to adapt and to mature. Growing evidence of its absence among the young is as ominous for our future as the threat of climate change or financial crisis.
A disturbing measure is the increasing number of children diagnosed with mental-health conditions characterized by rigid and self-harming attitudes and behaviours, such as bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and “conduct” disorders. Hundreds of thousands of American children under 12 are being prescribed heavy-duty antipsychotic medications to control behaviours deemed unacceptable and unmanageable.
Canadian statistics are less dire but typically follow that trend. University of British Columbia psychologists have warned that today’s children between 6 and 12 “will be the first generation to have poorer health status as adults than their parents, if measures are not taken now to address their developmental needs.” Their report was presented in Winnipeg at last week’s National Dialogue on Resilience in Youth. The conference itself was a marker of the alarm among those concerned with the well-being of youth – educators, business people, people in government.
Beyond mental pathology, many young people exhibit difficulties adapting, as indicated by burgeoning drug use, aggression, bullying and violence. These tendencies all manifest alienation and frustration – that is, an inability to deal creatively and powerfully with life’s inevitable setbacks. The less resilient we are, the more prone we become to addictions and aggressive behaviours, including self-harm. We also become more attached to objects. A young Ottawa man was recently killed when he refused to surrender his iPod to a knife-wielding assailant. “I’d rather be stabbed than give up my iPod,” a 17-year-old woman told The Globe.