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Posted by Philip on 1 March 2013, 9:09 am in , , ,

Lifehack: the youth mental wellness answer or a well-meaning quick fix? #lifehackhq

Last night the Government launched its Youth Mental Health Social Media Innovations Fund. In the swanky highrise Auckland Wespac building, they uncovered a technology incubater run by (my words) well-meaning happiness evangelists and tech geeks, hell-bent on the idea that the answer to better youth mental health is to play more, say, "Yahoo!" and download an app. 

It's called Lifehack and here's what they say about themselves and an inspirational video to cheer you up:

Our mission is to create sustainable technology solutions to combat New Zealand’s youth mental illness problems. New Zealand’s fight for youth mental health and wellbeing needs a fresh approach, and we believe digital technology – created by students for students - will play a key part in the solution.

Our dream is to build a self-sustaining environment where digital solutions are created locally by young people, developed over a three-month program in our lab, integrated into local organisations, then pushed out internationally to similar organisations who need what we create. LIFEHACK will facilitate this reality.

You may want to compare it with this Coke ad. It's particularly revealing when you play them both together...

I don't want to come across as too negative — but several people at the launch shared my concerns. These were not allayed by John Key's assurance that his sons are the epitome of adolescent youth while he recounted an instance of them Googling on his iPhone on their annual Christmas trip to Hawai'i. Nor Paula Bennett's confession that she has to disconnect her modem and lie to her kids that the internet is down, in order for them to speak to her.

Mixed messages

In fact, the whole affair seemed a litany of insidious mixed messages — that social media is the cause of anti-social problems and bullying — yet it is also apparently the key to bettering youth mental health, to the tune of $62 million.

I felt compelled to tweet:

At the launch of #lifehackhq. A lot of talk of connection. No one has talked abo

Social researcher Brené Brown insists, "Fitting in is not belonging." Yet Lifehack's call for "hipsters, hackers and hustlers" is precisely the kind of calling for coolness that a young colleague of mine, who has experienced long term clinical depression, said she found offensive.

The third millennium's fixation on c0nnectedness — and the ever-increasing search for cool, innovative and virtual connection — is no substitute for self-acceptance and "showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are" (Brown, 2012). Quite the opposite. Lifehack advisor Jimi Hunt's insistance that we need to play more and say, "Yahoo!" made me cringe as I remember my own adolescence, when I wanted to show up and let myself be seen as sulky and saying, "Fuck off."

My next tweet:

Not many young people here for a youth led initiative #lifehackhq

4 white guys

A key selling point of Lifehack was that "solutions are created locally by young people", yet there were none at the launch. Two twenty-something white guys lurched their way self-consciously and self-congratulatedly through the details of Lifehack. Authenticity: Zero.

Jump on www.lifehackhq.co and you're presented with the Project Team:

Count them: 4 white guys, 1 Asian guy, 3 women. One of the women is the only person who identifies as experiencing mental illness.

The advisory board sports six people, two of whom I would credit with any legitmate knowledge of the complexity of youth mental health.

No-one under 20, as far as I can see.

What's my point?

I'm not against socal media and I am constantly looking to those who consider themselves experts for tips and inspiration (though to be truthful I'm yet to be convinced that the key to success is anything more than do what works and change what doesn't until it does).

What really concerns me (and many I've talked to in the last 24 hours) is that investing in social media to create the ultimate soluton for NZ's youth mental health is naïve and simplistic. Sure, invest a few hundred thousand into apps and websites — they're fun and terribly modern. But get with the programme.

Mood apps that send, "We're concerned your mood may mean you need help," texts are going to be a five minute wonders at best and a drinking game at worst. 48-hour innovation-a-thons are not going to attract at-risk youth. They'll attract confident, educated, wealthy, possibly Christian young people who really want to help, but don't know what it's like to be abused, uneducated, poor and disillusioned in a world that thinks i-Device apps and websites are the answer to inequality, unfairness and a lack of belonging.

Prove me wrong

I think the key to reversing an ever-concerning youth mental health phenomenon has everything and nothing to do with technology and social media. The answer, in my opinion, is completely the opposite to what the NZ Government proposed last night.

1. The problem is not cyber-bullying and kids prefering spending time online rather than in-reality. The problem is we live in a bullying society and we are failing to create environments in which young people feel compelled and able to belong and contribute.

2. The solution is not creating more connections in cyberspace, so that adults can say, "We gave kids tools that we know nothing about to solve their problems," and then blame them for not making better use of them.

3. The challenge is creating a real sense of belonging in a world of amazing technology, where the virtual world complements, not replaces, the hug that says, "I love and accept you for showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are."

Agree? Disagree? Tell me.