“I’m hoping this moment launches a change in the way we raise and train all our young, at all ages. I’m hoping it exorcises the tide of ‘safetyism,’ which has gone overboard.” — David Brooks, New York Times, 4/16/20
I would like to thank our country’s most prestigious and trusted newspaper for the space to make the following arguments: mental illness is caused by coddling parents, and education that makes you hate life makes you enjoy life.
If you look at the rate of mental illness in teenagers, you’ll find something disturbing: it’s going up. Could this be because we live in an intensely neoliberal casino capitalist country that produces a few winners and a lot of losers, and teenagers are under unbelievable pressure to become one of our society’s few winners by getting impossibly good grades and test scores while also single-handedly organizing the million-person March for Hope and then writing an admissions essay about the summer they spent lobbying the government of Peru to pass comprehensive environmental legislation? And then you’re told you have to do this for the rest of your life with limited opportunities to use your freedom because you have to make a lot of money and have a safe job and when you look ahead at a life like that you feel like you’re drowning, all in the context of an unjust society, needless violence, and a planet that might honest-to-God collapse, and on top of that teenagers can be mean as hell, both in-person and online, and you might feel incredibly alone? Is this maybe an explanation for teenagers’ psychological difficulties?
I’m not sure, but probably not.
What I do know, however, is that parents who have coddled their children over the last twenty years are the primary driver in increased rates of teenagers’ mental illness. This is why people over fifty, who had stern parents, are much better off. For example, the rates of mental illness and suicide for this group are also increasing.
To summarize the argument so far: teenagers suffer from mental illness because they have coddling parents. Middle-aged people struggle from mental illness because they didn’t have coddling parents. I make a lot of money with my brain.
Some people — “experts” — believe that mental illness is indeed caused by genetics, trauma, difficult life circumstances, and alienation, but I haven’t talked to these people because I sit in my chair, and I look out my window, and I think, and I reason, and I think some more, and I agree with myself, and I write my column.
In order to understand how to build the sort of psychological resilience that leads to lower rates of mental illness, we turn now to the medical profession, which suffers the worst rate of mental illness of any career. The rate of mental illness in doctors is twice that of the general population, so my argument is we should do what they do.
My brain is vast, my thoughts are important, and I have a wide audience.
One thing doctors do is take pre-med classes that lead them to laminate notecards so that they can memorize molecular structures while they’re taking a shower. I’m not entirely sure how we go from A to Z in this case, but if more people did this, then we would have a far sturdier and more resilient citizenry.
The rate of mental illness among doctors indicates that mental illness is caused by genetics, trauma, difficult life circumstances, and alienation, and not by coddling parents. And that unnecessarily difficult life experiences do not build emotional health or enough resilience to handle a very difficult job. Medicine is a demanding, often disrespected profession, and instead of pointing out doctors’ largely unspoken psychological struggles, I am using this space to argue that they are doing fine because they have been trained to be fine.
That’s kind of fucked up!
Some argue that cheering on courageous people is worthless unless you are willing to make their lives better. Counterpoint: thank you for your service. Some people believe that building emotional and psychological resilience is best achieved not by subjecting people to random difficult shit for no reason but by educating them about how to cultivate happiness, gratitude, and peacefulness; how to ask for help; how to lean on social bonds; how to follow a life path that they might enjoy; how to accept themselves; and how to have a perspective on suffering that includes solidarity and not just vague personal growth — and that maybe we should reform our society as a whole so that instead of forcing people into intensely high-pressure situations from an early age so that they might be successful, we make success more widely available so that we can mitigate the strong undercurrents of rage and anxiety and dislocation that are moving us toward annihilative shores.
But again, in my column about suffering stemming from being coddled, I have not talked to anybody who is suffering because they were coddled, because I sit in my chair, and I look out my window, and I think, and I reason, and I think some more, and I agree with myself, and I write my column.