‘Snowflake millennial’ label is inaccurate and reverses progress to destigmatise mental health

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Triggered? Tim Dennell/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Shelly Haslam-Ormerod, Edge Hill University

From the baby boomers of the mid 1940s to the early 60s to Generation X yuppies who came of age in the 1980s – labelling generations is nothing new but as early as 1839 French Philosopher Auguste Comte wrote about the gradual and continuous influence generations have upon each other and how generational stereotypes hold firm.

For today’s millennials, who came of age around the early 2000s, the charge of “snowflake” has been attached to criticise their perceived sensitivity. The British Army even used the name recently to address young people in a recruitment campaign. One of the soldiers featured in the campaign has received hundreds of social media messages mocking his association with the snowflake poster. Despite this reaction from some people, the advert’s intention was to invert the label’s stigma and highlight the value of compassion in millennials.

Use of the term elsewhere has been uniformly negative. The English dictionary defines “snowflake” as a derogatory term to describe an easily offended person, or someone who believes they are entitled to special treatment on account of their supposedly unique characteristics. Members of the so-called “snowflake generation” are typecast as emotionally weak and lacking resilience.

Research has shown that labels such as these create stigma – and stigma’s role in mental health is an age-old problem. Amid the media furore around the poster there remains the disturbing statistic that one in eight children and adolescents and one in four adults in the UK will experience a mental illness.

Flippant stereotyping of a generation as weak based on their mental well-being contradicts efforts to reduce mental health stigma. It also undermines the goal of ensuring society values mental health equally with physical health.

From ‘can-do’ to #MeToo

The “snowflake” label contrasts with early published anticipation for the millennial generation. At the outset, millennials were met with encouragement, as a book published in 2000 by William Strauss & Neil Howe shows. “Millennials Rising” predicted a “can-do youth” which would recast young people from downbeat and alienated to upbeat, engaged and optimistic.

Since then however, global financial recessions, the rising cost of living and education, insecure work, climate change and a turbulent political landscape have all contributed to significant increases in poor mental health among young people. This has created a difficult environment for millennials to meet their potential. Rather than characterise them as weak, society should work together to help young people overcome these challenges.

In the UK, tabloid headlines have fuelled the problem. “Life’s too tough for snowflake worriers who spend six hours a day stressed out” reads one from the Daily Star in 2018. “Sheltered snowflakes with no idea how to survive in the real world are having to pay for ‘adulting classes’”, reads another.

Millennials have inherited difficult career prospects, a febrile international order and an expensive housing market. Fizkes/Shutterstock

A recent Daily Star headline from December 2018 prompted an open letter from mental health campaigner Natasha Devon. She condemned the headline: “Snowflake kids get lessons in chilling” and implored the media to recognise the ongoing mental health crisis and the need to challenge stigma, rather than labelling and stigmatising those in need.

What is perhaps more worrying is the ease with which this label is seeping beyond the millennial generation with the Daily Mail stigmatising even young children as “snowflakes”.

A quick Google image search of “snowflake generation” produces a slew of images that typify a hatred towards millennials, with derogatory jokes and memes. There’s also an association with words such as “weak”, “sensitive”, “triggered” and “entitled”.

Using “snowflake” as an insult was popularised by the alt-right during the 2016 US presidential elections in the US to negate the views of those considered anti-Trump, including liberals and leftists. This legacy does not reflect well on those parroting it in the UK media.

Debunking the ‘weak millennial’ myth

The label’s connotations need to be challenged. In reality, the millennial generation are resilient in bucking legacies left by older generations. Millennials are consuming less drugs and alcohol than previous generations and youth turnout at the 2017 general election in the UK was reported to be the highest in 25 years.

Despite growing insecurity in the job market, unemployment in Britain’s under-25s is among the lowest in Europe. Millennials are also ousting older generations from high-ranking roles.

The emotional intelligence of millennials shines through their continued efforts to oppose injustice. Their resilience is also clear in their efforts to excel despite the challenges they face.

Ultimately, the snowflake label is unfair because it encourages stigma and evokes hatred. The word “snowflake” has lost its wistfulness as the harbinger of winter, replaced by insults to an individual’s capacity to cope in a challenging world. As a society, perhaps we need to ask ourselves – when has stigma and contempt ever helped?The Conversation

Shelly Haslam-Ormerod, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing, Edge Hill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Macho myth busting: working class men aren’t all too tough to seek help

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Paul Simpson, Edge Hill University and Michael Richards, Edge Hill University

Men are bad at looking after their health, or so the received wisdom goes. Indeed, evidence has shown that men have significantly higher death rates than women from cancer due to delays in seeking medical help.

These doctor-avoiding tendencies have also been shown to be more common among working-class men – who are thought to place more emphasis on “toughness” and are more inclined to take risks when it comes to smoking and drinking. But there is evidence that questions some of these “macho” stereotypes. Men are beginning to look to support groups for help and our own research has pointed to a subtle change in workinmg-class masculinity.

Our study was based on the findings from three focus groups conducted with 15 men, aged 23-68, from three cities in northwest England. The men attended different support groups and experienced disadvantage because of low income and/or mental health difficulties. We asked them to take photographs of what “health” meant to them to aid discussion and we received more than 100 images.

The study found that experience of disadvantage because of low income and mental health issues had encouraged men to engage in what have been called “communities of practice”. These communities emerged within various support groups that were organised around football and mental health, being a father and for people trying to manage on lower incomes. They provide opportunities for men to support each other “informally” outside official, medical and care environments. They also provided opportunities for the men to think as a group about their mental and physical health.

Attitudes observed within these communities suggest a broadening of working-class masculinity that recognises the value of emotional expression and mutual support. They also encouraged group members to question the mental health advice they were receiving from doctors and dominant ideas about healthy eating.

Challenging stereotypes

Men, particularly those in working-class communities, face pressures to be strong: to be “breadwinners” and to control their emotions. But one man who took part in the study – Geoff, aged in his early 50s and from Merseyside – used photographs of his achievements in a football and mental health support group to talk about his recovery from severe mental health problems. He said he recovered thanks to the emotional support available in his community group:

I have no shame whatsoever talking about mental health. Until we can talk as openly about mental health as we do physical health, there will be a stigma and if I can talk about… the dark times… hopefully that touches someone else and makes them reach out for help. One of the most difficult things to say is – like coming out – ‘that’s what it is’. It’s making that admission. Football has been a huge part of my life. It was always where I could be myself. The lads are like any other football team but we take it one step further because not only do we care for each other, we actually counsel each other.

Geoff’s words show how this support group has normalised talking about fears and anxieties. His use of the metaphor “coming out” shows the importance of owning one’s emotional vulnerability. This is a far cry from “manly” suppression of or distancing from so-called “feminine” emotions. Geoff also spoke of the group as helping men to express their authentic emotional selves.

Indeed, Geoff said that for group members football was “their medication”. This was echoed by another study participant. Mike, aged in his early 20s, compared the benefits of the support group in helping him to face bereavement with “the doctors who just give you pills”. And referring to a photograph of himself making papier-maché figures with his children, Darren (early 40s from Manchester) described how sharing thoughts within a self-help group for dads had “helped me bond with my kids” and had helped him “become the dad I am now where I can play with the kids and then get on with housework”.

Community groups can help men facing disadvantages to develop emotional resources. Their stories also show how health is a collective rather than a purely individual enterprise.

Places to relax

Another significant theme appeared in stories about men’s favourite places to relax. Referring to a photograph of his bike on New Brighton Promenade, overlooking the Liverpool waterfront, Daniel explained:

I’ll often peddle to New Brighton. Nine miles there, nine back and it’s just sea and sand all the way. You feel like you’re abroad. So, that’s nice mentally rather than physically. I just look back at the city where I grew up and think about life and it really helps.

Daniel’s words suggest freedom and the view of Liverpool provides emotional as well as physical distance: a space of escape to consider his life’s journey. In all focus groups, men contrasted such places to unhealthy “mean streets” that represented urban blight, hostility, disconnection and social problems.

The ConversationContrary to the stereotype, working-class men who belong to support groups are no strangers to seeking help. It’s clear that support groups are helping men get the help they need and they could be key in taking steps towards reducing male suicide rates and addressing wider health issues. But more needs to be done to raise awareness of these groups and more funding needs to be set aside to make them accessible for all.

Paul Simpson, Lecturer in Applied Health & Social Care, Edge Hill University and Michael Richards, Lecturer in Applied Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Children’s emotional health and wellbeing

A new report, Just Health: An Enquiry into the Emotional Health and Wellbeing of Young People in the Youth Justice System, was recently published by Peer Power.

The report makes a number of recommendations to improve the emotional support and wellbeing that young people receive in the youth justice system.

Responding  to the report, Lord McNally, chair of the Youth Justice Board, acknowledged that access to mental healthcare and emotional wellbeing services is poor for children in the youth justice system. He said how the report demonstrates why it is important to seek the views of those whose needs the youth justice system was established to meet: namely children who offend.

Peer Power was commissioned by the National Health Service (NHS) London to facilitate consultation and engagement with children and young people to see how NHS London could improve the way that they work with young people who find themselves in the system. As part of the consultation, a film was produced with Stretch Charity about emotional health and wellbeing that explored the views and experiences of young people with lived experience of youth justice and health agencies.

The report found that liaison and diversion services for young people could be improved – it wasn’t clear from those in contact with the system whether they received the proper screening and assessment process. Disconcertingly, 71 per cent of participants said that they either did not have anyone come to them to talk about needing or wanting support.

It is crucial to gain the views of young people, in a collaborative partnership with NHS London, about emotional support and wellbeing services offered while they are in contact with the youth justice system.

The report’s findings demonstrate the need to listen and act upon the views of children and young people to ensure that services meet their needs effectively and efficiently.

You can read the report and its recommendations here.

Sean Creaney is a Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at Edge Hill University. He is an advisor at the social justice charity Peer Power, a Trustee at the National Association for Youth Justice, and a PhD candidate at Liverpool John Moores University. He also writes The Youth Justice Blog in Children and Young People Now.