Recently, there have been reports in some of the media saying that young people are now more stressed than before and are having more mental health issues than ever. Various reasons for this are proposed, including the addiction to social media. I won’t dwell on these statements but whatever the state of youth stress may be, it has been an observation of mine for a few decades already that there seem to be fewer traditional calming influences and ordinary emotional supports, perhaps especially for urban youth. Let me tell you what I mean.
Take music, for instance. There is lots of the usual rebellious rock and social-commentary hip-hop, but how often are the young exposed to contemporary versions of soothing ballads, quieter blues, and other tunes that help the soul and mind to work through hurt, loss, and pressure? This has been, for eons, one of the great benefits of music. I recall as a young man crazy about the Beatles, being very moved by Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” with its soothing lament over a lost love, not unlike the Beatles’ own “Yesterday.”
There appears to be a lot of loudness, whether of anger, passion, or praise, and (to me) far too little of the softer, thoughtful, singing that has healing power. The poet G.K. Chesterton once said the following about the ages-old features of the Celtic character ….
The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.
The Irish are particularly talented at making good sad songs, perhaps in part because so many of them seem equally talented at drinking and arguing. Check out the Irish ballad called “The Dutchman” in the previous blog, as just one example of many, of their renowned skill. Sad and thoughtful songs can help a mind under stress open an emotional safety valve.
I am not suggesting to the young what their taste in music should be, but only that there are in the general culture and in nature various calming, therapeutic sources of strength and stability …. if we only open our eyes and ears to them. Besides music there are pets, quiet walkways, forms of mindfulness, meditation on good things, and so much more.
Earlier this month, I watched a wonderful movie called A Street Cat named Bob, about a young homeless drug addict who meets up with a stray cat, leading to health for both of them. I then read the book by the young man himself, for the film is based on his true story. Who knew that someone who had been living on the streets of London for a decade would be saved by a cat? If puzzled, read the book or watch the movie. Taking care of Bob the sick stray helped James Bowen to have, as he says, “an extra purpose in my life, something to do for someone – or something – other than myself.” The story has a certain similarity to Marley and Me, another inspirational best-seller about a man and a pet.
I have to disagree with the view that stress and depression must always be met with optimism and the upbeat. Often a quiet word of empathy or an opportunity to shed a few tears is far more helpful. I tend to avoid social groups or churches that are forever pumping the positive. Great pieces of poetry, including the Psalms, show a wide range of emotions, and a good Irish lament, or a needy street cat, can do a world of good.