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Generation Snowflake: Challenging UK’s mental health system

July 31st, 2017
topic:Health and Sanitation
by:Shira Jeczmien
located in:United Kingdom
tags:Mental health, Snowflake, United Kingdom

They call them generation Snowflake. The young millennials who have been raised to believe they are unique, and who, according to author Claire Foxe’s theory, are more likely to be personally affected by stress, ‘real-life’ demands and a disagreement with their own opinions. Like the individualistic form of a flake of snow, this generation of young adults will each experience their own struggles, and the question is: are they living in a country which is structured to cater for the rise in their demands in mental health support?

To use the term mental health in 2017 is highly complex yet equally rewarding. Eyes seem to lock on just about anyone blurting out solidarity with mental ill-health. The recently elected prime minister Theresa May did not shy away from advocating further funds for mental health support within the National Health Service (NHS), nor has she kept her promises for all that long. A fortnight after her questionable coalition with Northern Ireland's right-wing Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Queen’s speech – which outlines some of the major plans of the elected party over the course of leadership – had no mention of how the Tories plan to “end the stigma of mental illness”, a phrase often used by May throughout the snap election campaign. Instead; the speech simply mentioned that the Tory “Government will reform mental health legislation and ensure that mental health is prioritised in the National Health Service in England.” How this is going to be done is as mysterious as May’s ways of leadership. In response to the Queen’s speech, chief executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy Janet Weisz responded, “people think that the NHS will be there for them if they need it, but in reality with the Government’s current mental health target, only 25 per cent of people with anxiety and depression will be able to receive treatment by 2020.”

While mental health continues to be a benchmark for any political campaign to remain trendy and relevant, cuts to its funding are rising in equal measure to its awareness – seems counterintuitive right? In April this year, cuts in mental health funding reached £4.5 million, leaving a vast number of the 8 million adults and 800,000 children currently suffering from mental illness without access to the treatments they need. 

Perhaps the young minds behind generation snowflake are considered too sensitive and frail as a result of their hyper Westernised upbringing, but they also were raised with technology, and it's precisely to technology that they turn when governmental aid is being slashed. During the student-led enterprise activity Operation Snowflake at London College of Communication, organiser William Mills discusses why it is essential for initiatives to continue developing supportive mental health systems independently. Mills describes how “over 75% of students admit that they are experiencing emotional distress, with student suicides more than doubled since 2011. Most of students in need of help are facing a six to eight months wait (for treatment). That’s an entire academic year, and if you’re suffering, that’s a long time to wait.” As an ambassador of the peer-to-peer 24/7 helpline for mental health support charity Nightline, Mills describes the importance of having a support platform where individuals can find solidarity, however, the anonymity of the calls together with the lack of professional skills makes such initiatives a good start, but “certainly not the end solution”. Furthermore, Mills tells us that this year, London’s high ranking Imperial College has pulled out its funding for Nightline, which costs a mere 18 pence per person. For this four-day conference, Mills has reached out to peers from all fields of study such as web development, design, advertisement and communication, as well as teachers alike to join together and rethink how mental ill-health in universities can be approached, understood and treated today – and how online platforms can be improved to support the growing numbers of those turning to them in lack of institutional systems.  

One of the dangers in self-led ‘communities’ (particularly online) is the echo chamber they create; with no professional moderator, and complete anonymity, the internet can become a place where those who suffer from mental ill-health can ostensibly find solidarity, but no substantial treatment. “I don’t think they should call such platforms ‘a community’ because a real community is where you can admit who you are and that you have a problem” Mills argues. Where else are young people meant to seek help then? 

“The snowflake represents a broader cultural debate used by an older generation to characterise young adults of the 2010s as being delicate, thin-skinned and vulnerable. It creates an immediate and real instinct to silence and shut down young adults”, yet an essential first step as Mills continues to say is that at Operation Snowflake “we kind of want people to be a snowflake, as by not verbalising our issues the problems are going to get worse and worse.” 

At Operation Snowflake Mills and his peers are using their own personal experience of the fractured supportive system in place at university as a starting point to research and speculate how university platforms such as forums, chats and perhaps even student to teacher communication can be made more digestible. These young people are proving that technology, the internet and transparency together with independent organisations need to keep larger organisational bodies accountable for the well-being of their citizens and students; snowflakes or otherwise. 

Article written by:
Shira Jeczmien
Shira Jeczmien
Author, Contributing Editor
United Kingdom
Are the Millennials in the UK living in a country which is structured to cater for the rise in their demands in mental health support?
The recently elected prime minister Theresa May did not shy away from advocating further funds for mental health support within the National Health Service (NHS), nor has she kept her promises for all that long.
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