Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Despair felt by youth of today a big concern

Editor's Viewpoint

Two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement being signed, most debate in Northern Ireland centres on the failure of politicians to build on the hopes that the accord promised.

But there is an even more depressing problem bubbling away just beneath the surface of this society.

At a time when we should be celebrating peace and optimism, it appears we have created a lost generation of young people.

One of the most shocking statistics to emerge in recent times is the finding that 4,400 have died from suicide since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. This is more than the 3,600 who were killed during the Troubles.

Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK, yet it is a society which has emerged from conflict and where young people are now able to mix freely and have a potentially better lifestyle than their parents enjoyed for decades.

Almost half of 16-25 year-olds say they have experienced mental health problems, two thirds often.

Some always feel stressed and a third always or often feel hopeless.

It is that slough of despair which is most concerning.

Instead of looking forward to the best years of their lives, large numbers of young people see little to encourage them.

They are disillusioned at their job prospects. Political uncertainty and Brexit undoubtedly underpin that feeling. Other factors such as university debts, difficulty getting on the property market and the greater fragmentation of family structures also play a part.

The one encouraging factor is that young people increasingly are open about their mental health problems - although there is still a dire lack of resources to help them.

Part of that openness may be due to the unstinting work of mental health charities in attempting to address the problem. We can also look to the example of Prince Harry, who admitted that he had to seek counselling to deal with the death of his mother.

He said he had come very close to a complete breakdown on many occasions.

This is a feeling that far too many young people here can empathise with, but we need more than just research if we are to offer hope.

A functioning, devolved government and radical health service reform could provide the resources to help and also rekindle the optimism of two decades ago.

Belfast Telegraph

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