Tag Archives: young people

Young Millenials and The Happiness Deficit

serotonin and dopamineI don’t know why a two-year-old article on happiness is floating around my Facebook today, but it struck something in me because I’ve been meeting some horrendously unhappy people over the last few weeks. The article is about the big rush of interest in the ‘science’ of happiness that happened a year or two ago, perhaps triggered – or at least popularised by – Bhutan’s policy of ‘Gross National Happiness’ hitting the Western media.

Dr. Seldon, the writer of the article, is one of the founders of a movement called ‘Action for Happiness’, whose goal it is to work on ways to decrease human misery. He acknowledges that happiness could be seen as a trivial topic, but argues that the fact that “prescriptions of antidepressants have risen by 43 per cent since 2006″ clearly suggests something is seriously wrong and it needs dealing with. “The tragedy”, he says, “is especially acute for young people. They are suffering grievously, with adolescent suicide again on the increase, and the proportion with a whole variety of distressing emotional problems rising from 10 per cent in 1974 to 17 per cent in 2006.”

I’m rubbish at statistics, and I don’t know why he used a statistic from 2006 in an article written in 2011, but I’d confidently bet that the percentage of young people with distressing emotional problems has continued to rise, particularly since the credit crunch and ensuing troubles.

My new job involves working in an educational setting with young people who are struggling. It’s very likely that this is colouring my view of UK happiness levels, so I willingly acknowledge the subjectivity of this article; but even in my previous role working with young people following the more conventional route, I often encountered emotional distress in different forms. In the last week and a bit, though, I have spoken to young people who are dealing with various combinations of the following:

  • Early childhood sexual abuse
  • Parental heroin addiction
  • Caring for very sick parents
  • Serious poverty
  • Rape
  • Underage pregnancy
  • Abortion
  • Violent bullying
  • Parental suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-harm
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder & night terrors
  • Violent/abusive relationships
  • Homelessness

Obviously, all these young people are being looked after by child protection teams, social services and an impressive array of incredibly hard working people from different agencies who are busting their guts to help. But to me, as a relative newcomer to this level of suffering (at least a newcomer to being someone in ‘authority’ who wants to help), it all just seems like an insurmountable mess.

A fellow teacher advised me this afternoon to just get on with fighting the fires as they flare up and not to question what’s causing them – because that way madness lies. I’m sure he’s right, and I will work on doing that, but it’s not in my nature to do so.  Today I’m feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of these young people’s problems, and I’m wondering what sort of society we have made that has caused this. Why do we have so very many profoundly unhappy, lost and struggling young people? Am I being idealistic to imagine that this would not happen in a society based on smaller, closer knit communities?

We seem to have created a world where our most lost young people don’t aspire to be like their closest adults as I (undoubtedly naïvely) imagine they did in the past. This is probably partly because many of the adults they see around them are desperately trying not to grow up themselves, and partly because there are far more compelling role models in the media. Because of this, many of our young don’t learn how to take responsibility for and cope with their own emotions, or to understand or care about the consequences of their behaviour. And to be fair, they have no reason to, because they don’t have goals in common with any particular community other than other disaffected young people. Our education system has killed their interest in the world around them, so they have nothing they particularly want to strive for, and there’s no motivation to do anything apart from seek hedonistic pleasures/drown their negative feelings.

But all this is not the fault of the young. They didn’t make this culture – we did. When I offloaded some of this to long-suffering spouse, he said “I suppose it’s the fault of our generation. The Punk generation. We’re their parents.” And he may be right. I know many of our generation – Generation X – were brilliant, responsible, creative and generally excellent – but I also know from experience that many others of us screwed ourselves up on drugs, refused to take responsibility for anything because we believed everything was the fault of ‘the system’ and tried wholeheartedly to resist ‘selling out’ (i.e. growing up and developing a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the world). We rejected everything, and therefore what did we have left to offer our children?

I don’t know if that analysis has anything to do with any of these problems – there’s also rampant consumerism, celebrity culture, mass loss of faith in politics, results-driven education and all the rest to be taken into consideration – but I’m not claiming to have any answers. Really, I’m just offloading my distress at our culture that on the one hand has given people a standard of living that hasn’t really been seen ever before in history, but on the other hand is making so many people so utterly and inconsolably miserable.

happiness

Bureaucrisis

Ever since I was at primary school I’ve always felt a little bit like this:

odd one outOr this:

Meerkats & kittenIt wasn’t anything dramatic or horrible. Nobody bullied me, I had friends and I don’t think anyone noticed. It’s just I didn’t feel the same as other people – not that I felt better or worse than them – just sort of separate. They seemed to understand what life was all about, while I found it all a massive unsolvable mystery. I spent a significant proportion of my time in a state of gentle disbelief; my tiny unformed brain muttering amazedness to itself: “What, so you mean I have to go to this school place EVERY DAY of the week until I’m 16?”, “So those girls actually WANT to all look exactly the same as each other?”, “Sex is WHAT?! That’s got to be a wind up.” “We have to run around a field in giant pants and nobody’s going to PROTEST?”, “Why do people go to work every day when it makes them look so unhappy?”, etc.

wise
This is me now. You can see the wisdom in my wizened cheeks and fathomless eyes.

Of course now I’m all ancient and withered I know that everyone else was probably thinking the exact same bewildered thoughts and feeling the exact same odd-one-outness as I was. But I didn’t know that then, and instead thought that either I or the rest of humanity was a bit off-kilter. Which one I thought it was depended on the mood I was in at the time. But gradually, I got used to the incongruities of the world and came to some sort of ‘agree to disagree’ deal with it.

But that semi-comfortable crust I allowed to form over my childhood incongruousness is beginning to crack. I may now be all grown up and whatever, but secretly, rumbling under the surface there’s a resurgence of that sense of not-quite-belonging-in-this-world. Those things that I used to ponder over – questions about why people have arranged the world like they have – haven’t actually been resolved at all. I’ve learned LOADS of detail about how it’s arranged and read loads of theories about why, but the frustration of it, the sheer brain thumping aggravating reality of it, is no less powerful than it was when I was 8.

It comes in waves, this feeling, and today I had a big one. A tsunami. You see, I have this lovely new job which I’m very excited about. One of the things this job involves is finding young people who need some support in life – ones who have disengaged with the education system and other things – working with them to find out what they want to do and then supporting them to actually do it. This feels to me like a job that’s WELL worth doing. I love working with young people and I think I’m good at it. The fairy godmother who scooped me out of my previous horrible job and gave me this one certainly believes I am, and I want to prove her right. And so far, so good. I have been meeting up with troubled young people, chatting for an hour or so, working out what we can do to help them, filling out a form to apply for the support they need and then getting on and working with them. The form is  bit long, so I apologise profusely for it and make sure we have a laugh as we do it.

Only today I discovered that I’ve been doing it wrong.

There is in fact more paperwork that needs to be done at this initial meeting stage. A lot more.

Bear in mind that these are young people that have been more or less failed by a clumsy, bureaucratic education system despite the best efforts of their teachers. They’re disengaged, they tend to distrust anything that represents authority and the only thing they really respond to is a friendly human that treats them as equals, seems to genuinely give a shit and has a laugh with them.

So imagine you are one of these young people. You have been offered a chance to meet up with someone who wants to help you find your way. You decide to drag yourself to a meeting despite all the crap that’s going on in your life, and the person you are hoping will be able to connect with you says that before they can even be sure they can offer you help, you’ll have to fill out some forms. These forms will then be sent off for approval, and if you don’t fit the criteria, you won’t get any help. Imagine how you feel when you find out that the paperwork you must do before you even know if it’ll come to anything is as follows:

1. A Referral form – 5 pages, including:

  •  Support worker’s details and the college’s details
  • Young person’s details
  • Reasons for referral and which programme they’re being referred to
  • What the student thinks of the proposed service
  • Which alternative solutions have been proposed
  • Additional support needed
  • What advice and guidance has been provided, how it’s been provided and how long we’ve been providing it for
  • Details about other agencies involved. If no other agencies are involved, have any been offered? If not, why not?
  • Summary of education & employment
  • Summary of social & behavioural development
  • Summary of family & environmental factors
  • Summary of personal health issues
  • A ‘soft outcomes assessment’ where the young person has to rate themselves on a scale for confidence, self-esteem, writing, reading, aspirations, and several others, and comment on each one.

 2. Programme agreement & initial assessment form – 9 pages, including:

  •  Young persons’s details (again)
  • Key worker details
  • Personal advisor details
  • Qualifications
  • Disabilities
  • General background
  • Ethnicity,
  • Achievements, qualifications, experience and action support that is required
  • Language, literacy numeracy, ESOL & key skills evidence and action support that’s required
  • Career preferences & suitability + action support needed
  • Interests & hobbies + action support needed
  • Learning difficulties or other support needs + action support required
  • A section for 3 things the young person is good at and 3 they are bad at + action support required to overcome these
  • Learning style assessment & action support required
  • An individual learning plan, including details of why this chosen programme is right for this learner, details of where the young person wishes to progress from this programme, details of the young person’s other key objectives, details of activities and support needed to enable them to meet their goals, details of the expected length of time required to complete these activities and achieve their goals, details of hours of attendance each week, which days they will be attending,
  • Two pages of all the levels, start dates, end dates and course codes of the qualifications they’ll be taking.
  • Details (AGAIN) of support being provided to ADD VALUE to the programme
  • Details of support activities to be provided by other organisations

 3. Initial assessment tests to be completed in literacy, numeracy & IT and results to be attached to above form along with the results of a learning styles test (also to be completed)

 4. A two-page Information, advice and guidance sheet, including:

  •  Young person’s details (AGAIN)
  • A section called: Where am I now? – young person’s experiences, qualifications, personal circumstances (AGAIN)
  • A section called “What do I want to do now and in the future?”
  • A goal setting section with activities. Students have to identify an overall goal, then make short term and long term targets and identify what activities are needed to achieve those targets. Who must do the activities and when each one is going to be done by.

 5. A time sheet of all the activities that are going to be done with the student and when, and all the activities that have been done so far.

 6. If the young person is under 16 there’s a whole “extended learning pack” to complete (I haven’t seen what delights that holds yet)

 7. Finally, an enrolment form that is double sided A3 in tiny print and requires all their personal info AGAIN. Including previous education, all their grades for everything, what course they’re applying for, benefits details, ethnicity, etc…. 

bureaucracy cartoonIf I was a disengaged young person – and I know this because I WAS one once – I would get up and walk out. It would fill me with fury. I would rant and fucking rave and go out and get pissed and decide that the ‘proper’ world was definitely NOT for me because it’s clearly mental. And of course THEY’D BE RIGHT. They’d be BLOODY RIGHT. It is INSANE.

And everyone in the meeting I attended about this KNEW it was insane, but none of us have any choice in the matter. If we want to be able to draw down the funding we need to help these young people, then this is what we have to do. The agency with the money require this paperwork before they will even consider funding a student. And there are two MORE batches of paperwork that have to be done in the TEN weeks that we may be working with a student who is accepted on the scheme.

It takes me two hours with a student to go through the first form. I DREAD to think how long it will take to do the rest. All of this is time that I should be spending working on what that young person (and the other young people on our scheme) need/s. I was employed in this role because I am an innovative teacher and hopefully an inspiring one. Students tend to like me and I really do like them and we work bloody well together. I am shit at paperwork and I hate it. It’s waste of my time and the time of our already disenfranchised young people.

No bloody wonder I felt at odds with the world when I was a kid.

I was bloody right.

ORIG-bureaucracy