This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studying Theology, her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.
Not only in the high technological societies, but also amongst the indigenous communities and really across the globe, the young people are suffering more under depression, anxiety and various forms of mental illness - than ever before.
In the Western World research has shown that about a quarter of young people have already had some sort of mental problem (M. Olfson; US). Health figures in Australia show that 75% of mental illness begins before the age of 25; the United Kingdom and Sweden show similar figures. One of the most telling researches shows that amongst students in the US one finds 5 times as many youngsters suffering from depression today than in the Great Depression (Prof. J. Twenge; San Diego).
Medical science is struggling to understand what causes these circumstances, despite the affluence, health care and development of modern societies. The figures amongst indigenous cultures are probably worse, due to loss of cultural identity and guidance. But even within Europe, the WHO reports astonishing suicide rates amongst youngsters between 15 and 19. One can cite all manner of reason for these frightening statitics, from loss of social cohesion and family structure to an astonishing rise of depressive disorders nearly everywhere.
For some reason young people are having ever-greater difficulty to make sense of the world they live in, they have ever more difficulty in controlling their mental and emotional worlds. There seems a lack of meaning in life, and people who can inspire a search to find this. I am sure there is also a legacy of the mass-destructive weapons producing a subconscious fear of annihilation.
There was an iconic book in the sixties that has been since turned into a film and an opera. (Where the Wild Things Are). A young boy imagines himself on a journey and encounters many monsters, which dance and cavort and are quiet threatening. He plays with them, watches them, then he sends them "to bed". Once they are asleep, the fascinating distraction of his own mind gone he realises... he really wants to return home to love and family.
This is a journey every young person grows through; in order to grow up, to mature we need to take charge, learn to control and/or channel our emotions, our mental aberrations and wildest thoughts! In other words, in one way or another, we need to learn to tame our minds. When one is not able to do that, due to whatever family, mental, environmental or cultural situation - depression or mental illness in one way or other is bound to result.
All people have - and all young people are and always will be facing the challenges of making sense of the world they inherit; as well as their own experiences. The latter might be as simple as losing a playmate because the parents move house, the death of a hamster or as severe as losing a loved one through death, being severely ill or experiencing the break-up of the family; many face even more extreme suffering caused by natural catastrophes, war and destruction of the familiar - or whatever life brings to one's door step. These events are just about timeless and not bound to location or country.
But in the modern world, some additional factors affect young people; the enormous pressure of consumerism with a parallel loss of any spirituality is one of these.
In addition to this an unusual high rate of family breakdowns and a media culture that encourages young people to grow up faster and earlier than ever before. Young people are forced earlier and earlier to behave, act like adults - depriving them of developing essential coping-mechanism/parts of brain and mind that need time to mature; leaving youngsters to grow up emotionally immature and disempowered! Furthermore they live in a cyber-saturated world, which through the mobile phone as well as (the many forms of) the internet place enormous power in their hands. As a result of the latter we have cyber-bullying and harassment, sexting, internet addiction and 'facebook-depression.' (Ramesh Manocha; MD). All of these create insecurities, negative thought-patterns , self-destructive ideas and mental patterns that result in dysfunctional behaviour.
With such a cocktail how can one be surprised that the young ones turn to alcohol, drugs and anti social behaviour... and finally fall into mental illness. Young-ones, at an alarming rate become less resilient, less capable than previous generations.
Not a happy picture and I am sure each reader has in his or her memory, past or present experiences where young-ones struggle with some, or all of this.
The Question is, what can be done? And yes things are done, more and more psychologists address the issue; early detection programs are getting better. But more important is finding ways to prevent young-ones going down the road of destruction; enabling youngsters to cope better with the stress of growing up in a dis-functioning, massive stress-producing society. How can we help to develop young people to be more stress-resistant, have strength, courage and a positive attitude to life?
One of my personal thoughts about it is that our society needs real guides, real inspiring behaviour-models; not media hyped celebrity models, that are sick in body and mind themselves, but symbols of nobility and greatness as human beings. But where do we get these from... it needs a different society.
However we can start small and educate the parents to recognise symptoms in their children early; but even better is to educate parents and children in - Meditation. This might sound crazy; but where parents meditate, the children grow up differently: "Calm parents contribute to a calm household, which in turn has a calming effect on the children."(Ramesh Manosha)
Well much research has also been done as to how meditation in the classroom changes children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Even when Meditation is stripped from all traditional, religious and cultural terminology - it is very effective, in changing behaviour and states of mind (including depression and anxiety; A. Morgan; University of Exeter, UK).
Very well but how do we get a disturbed, uncooperative young person, to sit for meditation? That is the thousand dollar question. Once they do, they most frequently quickly find the benefits... but how to even get them to try?
One recommendation of course would be to start early: learn to meditate, cultivate a relaxed and then still mind and share that with your children from a very young age. I remember Swami Veda saying, take the baby, rest it on your shoulder while you meditate... don't put it in the bed, so that you have quiet time to meditate!
Later sit the small child in your lap, so it sits with you.., as long as it likes to absorb the calm still, healing vibrations...
Campaign for schools to have 15 minutes Meditation... a day... every day; even without any religious or traditional vocabulary if that is offensive to the powers to be. Or even campaign simply for practicing stillness. Children today suffer from an extreme overload of stimulus, the amount of data, the immature child-brain is asked to process(even when watching "child-safe" cartoons) is enormous. To be silent and still gives the brain a very necessary rest. I know schools where every lesson starts with a few minutes of silence! Give the brain of the developing Being a chance to create the right synapsis; work with neuroplasticity, allow to grow a mature, well balanced mind.
There is no doubt, that according to all we know of today, including research by the WHO - the greatest threat to the young people of today and tomorrow is mental illness! What a prognosis!
The Buddha allegedly said: What is done to the children is done to society. (Is this why the Syria rulers keeps killing the children; it is like committing social suicide.)
But in a way, are we any different? In a recent Cartoon I saw a child asking: why don't we throw missiles on Monsato, for killing the children, now and in the future. Some say the Buddha said: the children are the mirror of the society. So what does it say about us, if mental illness and severe depression are the norm for many of our children?
What to do? Yes meditation but what else? Take time out with your growing child and go into nature. Earth and Nature have such strong effect on us, after all we are part of it. We are electromagnetic energy, Earth is electromagnetic energy, let Nature calm, balance and heal the whole being. You think I am crazy... but I mean it, take your child or youngster and walk barefoot on earth, sand, the beach, a park - where ever... let Mother Nature be re-introduced to your children.
The sole of your foot has more nerve endings, inch for inch than most parts of your body; through them we take up free electrons to balance the free-radicals that run riot in our bodies (there is much research on all this to back this up). On some level , we know... as a society... but we don't practice, we don't live accordingly, that's the tragedy that we pass on to the Young-ones. We ourselves have lost the connection to nature, to earth!
Yet part of us, in ourselves knows - in our own wisdom we know about balance and peace and being part of the living organism called 'One Earth' but we don't live accordingly.
Take your teenagers camping, try to convince them not to wear rubber or plastic soled shoes... no matter what the fashion says; at least for some time; and then periodically just take off the shoes altogether, and walk on "the grass!”
The healing energy of the earth is free; with urban living, in high-rise buildings, we live cut off from the source of renewal and healing. Get some of it back! It will improve physical and mental health. Re-establish the connection to Nature... which includes your natural state of mind (i.e. meditation) without the constant stress of mind-chatter and demands of information processing that is hurdled at us and the young.
Try! Explore the difference; see how you feel.
And then - if you are really "into it"... you can sit for meditation on the ground, the earth... meditate in nature! See the effect, try and evaluate...
If we want to stop the deterioration of our young- ones, our children and grandchildren it's high time to do something. Try these two suggestions, you can even make them fun!
Spiritual awareness and bringing back a sense of feeling connected to nature go hand in hand. It is our separateness from the whole which makes us suffer. Reconnect to Nature, to community, to family, to Spirit. To the awareness of One Humanity, to the awareness of belonging to something greater, something beautiful, something that makes it worthwhile to live for which doesn't cost anything, which doesn't mean to struggle, to achieve , to compete... but something that is simply there... for us to love and to be part, of - and be loved by in return.