Dáil Statement on Youth Mental Health

Dáil Statement on Youth Mental Health

Dáil Contribution on Youth Mental Health

It is important and timely to have this debate on youth mental health, particularly as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. It is a tough time to be a young person. I made what I hope are the majority of my mistakes at a time before social media and before digital cameras were ubiquitous. How difficult it must be now growing up when young people are constantly trying to compare themselves against unrealistic norms that are constantly presented to them. Even though it was there before the emergence of Covid, the pandemic has exacerbated matters because children and young people have not had the level of social engagement that would be normal for people of that age. They have retreated to their bedrooms and retreated to social media.

We need to realise and address the fact that the algorithm is nobody’s friend. The algorithm just feeds on the users’ attention. It will just show them more and never tell them that they need some sleep. It will never be concerned about what they are viewing. It will never take them aside for a chat. It will never worry that they our increasingly entering an echo chamber where they are just hearing the same views back. We have all experienced this: it has a polarising effect and it hardens our language. At such a vulnerable time for young people, we need to address that. We need to acknowledge the level of difficulty and the level of scarring that will have occurred over the period of the pandemic.

We have got better at talking about mental health. Our young people have a vocabulary that I would not have had at their age. However, we are still not great and we still need to provide services.

There is an urban-rural divide here. For young people growing up in the city, it is easier for them to find their tribe and they have more choices. The Minister of State knows the area around Dungarvan, Tallow and Cappoquin very well. It is more difficult for people living in those areas to access the services they need. Even in a physical sense there are not as many services. If people need to travel to access services, it makes it more difficult and it is more difficult for them to find their tribe in that way. In addition to addressing the scarring caused by Covid, we need to invest in mental health services, not just in our cities but also in rural locations where it might be more difficult for young people.