Please be advised that this post is brought to you from the depths of the nastiest and most tenacious bout of clinical depression I've had to fight off for some time. Churchill's 'black dog' is classically imagined as a huge, loping creature, stalking and howling like some great gothic beast; my personal black dog is actually more like one of those horrendous little yappy creatures with the ridiculous hairdos that old ladies and filmstars like to carry around - snarling and worrying at my feet in that weird little hissy way, demanding food, grooming, attention, never quite happy unless I pick it up and take it with me wherever I go. Right now, I'm sat at home chickening out of 'The Wave' climate march, not because I don't care (I do) and not because I'm poorly (I am, but that's never stopped me before) - but because I'm genuinely worried I might start sobbing in the middle of the demo for no reason at all.
I mention this because I want to start using this blog to talk more about climate change, military interventionism, economic armageddon - all those big, depressing things that I've been failing to pay attention to over the last few weeks as small but important feminist stories have been breaking. Don't get me wrong: feminism is the heart of my politics, but only and always when it can be considered in the context of wider, global struggles for justice. Feminism only makes sense to me as a strategic and ideological arm of the global left: this is why intra-movement squabbles make me want to kick things. As a feminist, as a young person, as a liberal and a thinker, there are things I've been putting aside for too long that won't wait, because they are the context for every smaller instance of liberal dissent.
I am not a climate activist, but whenever I talk about equality, women's rights, social justice, I do so with a pressing sense of urgency. For as long as I can remember, I've had the impression that we don't have much time left to put the world to rights before it gets hotter, harder and meaner down here. We don't have time to let gender justice, sexual justice, racial and class equality happen naturally, over the course of several civilising decades; we don't have time to wait for our grandparents' generation of racists and recalcitrants to grow frail and give up the reins of power. Change has to happen soon; it has to happen now, before the planet actually properly catches fire.
I had the good fortune to go drinking with ravishing climate valkyrie Tamsin Omond last night, and on being asked why she had given up a promising career in marketing to become a political activist, she told me quite simply that she 'would have gone crazy otherwise'.
That's a pretty accurate verdict on the state of my generation right now. Whatever our background, nearly all of us are under an immense amount of pressure, struggling to find and keep work or benefits, trying to establish our independence in a world that does not seem to have any room for us. My generation, overwhelmingly, faces a choice between becoming politically active or becoming massively despondent, 'going crazy' with frustration at a world that has turned out so much harder and crueler than we thought it would be even when we'd grown up enough to realise that politicians and business leaders would repeatedly and inevitably let us down.
For once, when I say 'my generation', I'm talking about a very specific group of young people: those who were between nine and sixteen when the World Trade Centre was destroyed in 2001 (for reference, I was three weeks away from turning fifteen at the time), and who are now 18-25 years old, bearing the brunt of the recession, coming to political awareness in a time of immense apathy, the so-called 'lost generation'. How have we got so lost?
In the course of my work for One In Four magazine (the new issue of which is out this week and available to buy online) I read a lot of mental health policy documents. There is a tendency, particularly when politicians talk about mental health, to discuss mental ill health as located in the individual, often in the body, rather than in wider society. If people become depressed, it is because they have a chemical imbalance, or because they were born that way, or because of intimate family imbalances during their childhood, rather than in response to, for example, social disadvantage or economic breakdown.
Of course, mental health difficulty and such attendant problems as addiction, physical ill health, worklessness, poverty and family breakdown can strike anyone, from any social background - just look at lovely Stephen Fry, so bravely and so loquaciously outspoken about his struggle with bipolar disorder. But social and local factors are just as important as predictors of mental health difficulty as genetic factors or childhood distress - and often more immediately relevant, as people with a natural or inherited tendency to mental health difficulty can be more likely to develop problems if they also have to deal with - for example - worklessness, poverty, local deprivation or social chaos. Fortunately, the government's new ten-year mental health strategy, New Horizons, is finally starting to take these facts into account, after years of being told repeatedly and occasionally at volume by mental health charities, think tanks and social researchers that the inequality and political turpitude actually have some bearing on the wellbeing of the population.
It is my firm belief that the current generation of 18-25 year olds have an unique perspective on politics and culture, filtered through a childhood of war, encroaching natural disaster, frantic consumerism and sudden betrayal. We are less employed, more addicted, more mentally unwell and more politically active than any group of young people for many years - although we are moving, on the whole, away from party politics. Exploring why is going to take me more than one post.
I've been engaged to write a chapter for Soundings Magazine and for A Radical Future, a forthcoming ebook written and devised by British activists and academics under 30 years old, on the subject of mental health, young people and politics. I'm going to thrash out some ideas on this blog over the coming weeks, during the Winterval lull.
The series will be titled 'World on Fire', after a discussion I had with my boyfriend last night, during which he ventriloquised rather aptly for our parents' generation:"here, have this planet! It's only slightly on fire!"