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The kids aren't alright


The next gen'eration needs you. ShortList editor Martin Robinson looks at the social problems powering our new campaign

Young men in this country are having a difficult time. A significant amount are struggling to get work, or achieve at school, and it’s leading to mental health problems and social exclusion. An underclass of troubled young men has developed.

A gender gap is opening up in education; this year, a third more girls than boys applied for university places. Youth charity The Prince’s Trust recently reported 15 per cent of young men lack all hope for the future. Suicide remains the biggest killer among young men today; official figures in 2012 showed 77 per cent of all suicides in the UK were male.

Something is going seriously wrong here.

ShortList is a magazine that deals with male problems in an open and honest manner, and we feel it’s time to shine a light on the next generation of men, and see what we can do to help. We are launching the ShortList Mentor Project to try to make a difference. The aim is to sign up readers to an online network to directly, quickly and easily mentor young men.

The Shock of the New

Firstly, let’s try to understand the problem further. If you read certain sections of the media you’ll get the impression drugs, drink, violence, sloth or obesity, are the things hampering young men in this country. But these are symptoms. There are several deeper shifts behind this crisis.

Professor John Ashton, regional director of public health, sees fundamental changes in society, which are taking time to adapt to and are creating casualties along the way. “The social environment young people have to negotiate is very complex, and often adults aren’t able to provide them with the support they need,” he says. “There’s a gap of understanding between the parental generation and the younger generation, because things have moved so fast. This particularly applies on the technology and social media side, and the impact of things such as cyber-bullying and sexualisation.”

Today’s young men are growing up in a different way to us, into a world in which your appearance and achievements and purchases are your social currency. Paul Brown, director of The Prince’s Trust, says it’s a double-edged sword: “Social media can make people feel connected to their peers, but on the other side we know it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety if they feel excluded. There’s nothing worse than seeing pictures of all your friends at a party you weren’t invited to. A world is painted of access to the latest clothes and gigs, and if you don’t have the money because you don’t have a job, it can be very excluding.”

Another major factor is that, as society becomes more female-focused, moving towards a much-needed equality of the sexes, it does mean that males aren’t necessarily adapting quickly enough to the change. Professor Ashton says, “Boys in particular are struggling to find an identity, because the macho persona that we are accustomed to is no longer fit for purpose. Young women are outperforming boys educationally, and they are beginning to take over the professions. Ninety per cent of veterinary students are now female, a clear majority of medical students are now female, and it’s similar in law.”

It’s the economy, stupid

The fundamental problems, however, come down to work and earning money. Young men are growing up against a backdrop of an economic depression. As Paul Brown says: “During the financial crisis, the increased pressure on young men has been clearly evident. They’ve faced a difficult time in terms of their employment prospects and their chances of being successful in work and in life, and that’s had a significant emotional toll. Lots of men find themselves ill-equipped for the jobs available today. Some recent research showed a third of employers said they couldn’t find people with the right skills to fill even entry-level jobs. At the same time, there are 800,000 unemployed young people. The Prince’s Trust Youth Index has shown unemployed young people are twice as likely to experience a range of mental health and emotional wellbeing issues.”

Ashton adds, “Young people are having to cope with all of this social and economic change, and it’s manifest in increasing levels of anxiety, depression and self-harm. It’s not good out there.”

Stevie Hardie, 28, from Scotland, was one young man who spiralled out of the system. After school, he spent four years in the wilderness, struggling with drink problems and depression.

“I didn’t have a particularly troubled childhood, but when I left school I had anxiety and depression,” he says. “Because I messed up at school, I thought I’d messed up my life. It spiralled from there. I had a job, but lost it, and felt terrible about it. I used to stay at home and hide away. The longer I did that, the bigger the barriers became to overcome.”

Stevie’s first-hand experience shows that men are pretty terrible at acknowledging a need for help, or supporting each other. “From 16 to about 22 I was dealing with it on my own, just being ridiculed by friends. There’s still that stereotype about men being men and not talking about problems, and I didn’t really speak out.”

That old macho millstone. Paul Brown is of the opinion that the ‘man-up’ front is a dangerous thing. “Data says women face more mental health issues, but it raises the question of, ‘Are more men suffering in silence because they are afraid to seek help?’”

The tide is turning

Things are improving in this respect, though. High-profile figures succumbing to depression have, on the positive side, resulted in more men speaking out about their problems and seeking help. Certainly Stevie exemplifies the benefit of making that move. “When I was 22, my dad had died and I decided I had to grow up for my little brothers. I went and actively looked for help, and I came across psychological therapy and then the Prince’s Trust. I joined one of their programmes, and the rest is history. It helped me get to where I am now – a youth worker.”

With more men thinking afresh about their issues and wanting to give something back, male role models are needed more than ever. And this is where the ShortList Mentor Campaign comes in.

We have joined forces with online mentoring website horsesmouth.co.uk and want YOU to sign up to the network we have created with them.

What this means, in a practical sense, is filling in an anonymous profile, talking about your experiences and areas on which you can give advice, then engaging with the young people on there who need help. They may contact you directly. They may just post up a general request for advice which you can then engage with. You can even seek some mentoring for yourself. CEO and founder of Horsesmouth, MT Rainey says, “If Facebook is for the friends you have, Horsesmouth is for the friends you need, when you need them. It’s a safe, easy way of communicating with others online who’ve been through what you’re going through, with none of the pressure to show off or share your identity. It’s incredibly easy to use. You can do it any time, in your own time and it’s safely moderated by professionals. It’s a virtuous circle that works for everyone.”

And it makes a hell of a difference to the young men on it. One 20-year-old user who suffered bullying says, “I have had times where I thought I would never get through them, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, as long as we look to the future with a positive attitude and ask for the help we need.” Another 23-year-old who needed career guidance says, “It’s all good having your careers advisor, tutor or school nurse preach at you about your future careers, relationships, citizenship and sex, but it is much more meaningful coming from someone who has been there and done that.”

Call to arms

We will be supporting this campaign in ShortList with stories on the different aspects of young male troubles today, and a series of interviews called ‘My Mentor’ , which will demonstrate the effect great role models have had on successful people.

We hope this will prove to be an inspiring campaign. We’d love you to sign up to the site, and we’d love you to support it on social media. More than anything, though, we’d love you to keep thinking of yourselves as role models. Men who take responsibility and act in supporting and inspiring the next generation. Too often young men are demonised and derided. It’s time us older fellas stepped in to support them.

Thanks to youth charity The Prince’s Trust, which helps disadvantaged young people get their lives back on track; princes-trust.org.uk; 0800-842842



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