Ever since I left my cosy semi-rural life and moved to Wellington, I’ve met a lot of new and interesting characters. Young people like me. In this time spent in the big city I’ve noticed a sort of undercurrent to a lot of student and young adult lives. A deep sadness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on for the longest time, until now.
Mental health for young adults in this country, indeed all over the Western world, is in a terrible state at the moment. In the 2011/12 NZ Health Survey (PDF), 14.3% of New Zealanders (more than half a million people) had been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.
A report by Unicef (PDF) in 2017 shows that New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world: 15.6 per 100,000 people, more than twice that of the United States and five times that of the United Kingdom.
A large number of my fellow students are sad, lonely, directionless and mentally unstable in a number of ways. Getting a degree and going to university just seems like a way to post-pone adulthood, stranding my compatriots in a several year long intoxicated limbo, not quite an adult but not quite a child either. They squander their lives and resources on degrees that have little or no value in today’s society. It seems this time is simply an excuse to party and have no responsibilities. I can see the appeal of it. Indeed, at one point in my life, I, too subscribed to the belief that all of my worldly problems could be solved with a night of drinking with friends and smoking a joint.
I have since overcome that delusion. People I personally knew from my stay in halls of residence last year have committed suicide and many others have dropped out and are now saddled with crippling debt and more often than not, depression. The system and this society of vapid consumerism and paper-thin ideals has left them broken and scattered like so many leaves in the wind.
In a time not so long ago, we were guided by common goals and beliefs. Having a family, contributing to your community and nation were all goals people had when they entered the world of adulthood. It was something to strive for and it gave our people a path to walk like so many had walked before them.
Now look at us; we are all atomised by individualism, our people are being replaced in their own countries, and our future is being squandered right before our eyes by careerist, mercenary politicians. We can't afford to ignore this anymore. At some level many young people recognize that this is the case; that lives of empty promises and broken dreams are all that await us. Out of overwhelming despair, some choose to opt out the only way they feel that they can.
I can only pray that we find the path again.
We must overcome this degenerate, nihilistic consumer culture pushed on us by big business and the media. We need to make meaningful connections with each other, not drug hookups and Tinder booty-calls. No more hiding behind irony. A new sense of sincerity has to be fostered. We need real communities. We need real purpose.
We aren't satisfied by this hollow modern life. We want more. We want something real.
And we've started building it. Together.