It’s official: according the latest news, young people in particular, and the population in general, are experiencing levels of anxiety never seen before. The data suggest that this is largely a phenomenon across countries in the wealthy West, and especially where extreme Covid policies have been enacted. Here in the U.K., the SPI-B unit within SAGE has played a largely unrecognised role in using psychological techniques to shape behavioural responses during the Covid crisis. Led by SPI-B advisors, including Communist Party Member and behavioral scientist Dr. Susan Michie, Government and health policy has been nudged along by generating a climate of fear and anxiety.
Those of us who have studied anxiety extensively are fully aware of the strength of this psychological state to interfere with our thoughts and feelings. As many clinicians and eminent psychologists acknowledge, anxiety, once it takes hold, tends to take over the whole of our personality. The famous existential psychologist Rollo May noted that prolonged exposure to anxiety can, in some cases, lead to a clinical condition he referred to as neurotic anxiety. This is a form of mental illness, and one of its features is that the individual tries to avoid the experience of anxiety by choosing to restrict their own freedoms and choices. Unfortunately, this strategy usually tends to make matters worse, with the result that the sufferer becomes even more afraid of their freedom and the ability to think for themselves and make their own decisions. Such people could be described, as the philosopher-psychologist Martin Buber said in his famous book, Ich und Du (‘I and Thou’), as possessing “a stunted person centre”. By this dramatic expression he conveyed the idea that to avoid the positive anxiety of freedom, people will sometimes diminish themselves and hand over the responsibility for their choices and lives to someone else.
My applied experience with hundreds of professional athletes and other clients who work in demanding performance environments convinces me that we have an epidemic of anxiety. I believe this has been deliberately manufactured by bodies like SPI-B with the complicity of most of the mainstream media. In trying to understand what has been happening to them during these past three years, some of the people I work with are questioning whether there are reasons beyond Covid to account for this prolonged anxiety attack on our culture. Some believe that the aim has been about health, protection from Covid, and to protect the NHS. An increasing number feel that something much bigger is at stake, and that the attack on individual and community freedoms is part of a drive to change the way we live in order to satisfy the climate change agenda. Others seem confused and quite naturally want to resist any thoughts about the possibility of manipulation from governments, supra-national organisations or other forces. This lack of clarity and certainty about what is going on, about the source of their overriding anxiety, of course has the effect of elevating feelings of anxiety.
One of the features of anxiety is that it is related to uncertainty about future actions and events. Anxiety described in this way is perfectly normal and healthy, in that it goes hand in hand with our human condition of freedom. However, when great confusion exists, most especially if this is sustained and maintained over a prolonged period of time, feelings of anxiety can become unbearable. Exhausted and perplexed, some people are tempted, and may in fact be prepared, to hand over their freedom and capacity to choose to experts and those who promise easy answers. This seems to be happening increasingly.
I believe this anxiety crisis is most seriously damaging in that segment of the population who by definition have the least resources to deal with this psychological condition. Of course, I am referring here to young people. It is well known from common sense and developmental psychology research that adolescence is, amongst other things, a period of considerable personal change. For most of us during this phase of our lives, we experience the normal anxieties associated with growth and change. Adolescence is a time during which we become more consciously aware that we have an important role to play in who and what we become. We all remember how this period is fraught with insecurities about our desire to be part of the group, but nevertheless still develop as a unique individual. These and many other issues faced by young people are the uncomfortable yet very often exciting stages we must pass through. It is partly because of this type of adolescent psychology that lockdowns, face masks, social distancing and warnings not to ‘kill granny’ have generated a collapse in the mental health of our young people. Given this situation, it is deeply immoral and unethical for Government, departments of education, health bodies and others to promote what can only be called superficial, quick fix, technique-focused approaches to a problem they have largely created. The first part of recovering mental health should be about returning to normal life, to our conditions and freedoms pre-Covid. Only then should we be looking at specific individual support where this is really needed. And then most of this help must not be of the quick fix variety, but be more in-depth and prolonged input.
In many ways I believe that the authorities are guilty of doing something which is prevalent in so many other parts of Western culture: addressing symptoms and ignoring underlying causes. Not only will this waste huge financial and human resources, but the vast majority of young people especially will not be helped by these actions. My own applied experience during 35 years of practice is that techniques to address symptoms very often fail, certainly beyond any initial benefit, and this leaves the client or patient in an even more hopeless and despairing place.
It also seems incredibly irresponsible for some bodies to be promoting the use of apps and technological devices to manage this anxiety crisis. There is extensive research from a wide range of academic disciplines which confirms that the overuse of mobile phones and the internet is contributing to alienation, social dislocation and a breakdown in community cohesion. Rather than reducing anxiety and increasing the acceptance of our innate freedoms, it very often appears that technology is being used inappropriately to make matters far worse.
I would like to take the opportunity here to plead with teachers, medical professionals, psychologists, the media and parents to speak out in any way they can, and to challenge the poison being offered, especially to our young people, as an antidote to a poison largely created by the policies of governments and their hand-picked experts.
Dr. Mark Stephen Nesti is a Consultant Psychologist and former Associate Professor of Psychology in Sport. His PhD in psychology was on the meaning of anxiety. He is author of Meaning and Spirituality in Sport and Exercise – Psychological Perspectives.