There is absolutely no question that there is a mental-health crisis in America today, and it has been on the rise particularly in the last decade. When considering past generations’ mental health, it is very clear that adolescents have gotten more anxious and depressed over time. Older generations, of course, had to deal with mental illness, but our current generation seems to be getting worse every year. For instance, studies have shown that the average high school student today has the level of anxiety that a psychiatric patient had in the 1950’s. With these climbing rates of anxiety and depression, our nation will eventually have to address the situation and accept the facts.
- According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 49.5% of adolescents have a mental illness, and 22.2% of those experienced severe impairment. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml#part_155771
- In 2017, an estimated 3.2 million adolescents ages 12-17 experienced a major depressive episode. That’s approximately 13.1% of this age group. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml#part_155031
- Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death in American teens, surpassing homicide.
- Between 2007-2012, anxiety disorder rates in teens went up by 20%. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx
- 80% of kids with diagnosable anxiety disorders are not getting treatment.
- 60% of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment
The list of facts and statistics proving the deteriorating mental health of adolescents could go on and on.
What is causing this?
If you asked any adult this question, they would probably respond, “Those dang phones.” And, while there is a lot of truth to that statement, the causes of the Mental Health Crisis are a lot more complex. Some of the main reasons for mental illnesses throughout the ages include brain chemistry, genetics, environmental factors, low self-esteem, medical issues, childhood trauma, and much more. These all seem to be reasonable causes for mental illnesses. But, why has it gotten so much worse? Here are some of my thoughts.
It’s a mindless thing, social media. Most of us pick up our phones and scroll through Instagram or Facebook out of boredom, simply seeking an entertaining past-time. What is not so apparent at first, however, is the negative content being poured into our brains every single day. Any time I open a social media, I immediately am bombarded with posts of girls with “perfect” (AKA photoshopped) bodies, memes about how awful the world is, constant inappropriate jokes, etc. When a young person is being exposed to this negative content at such an impressionable and vulnerable age, they are going to start forming their mindset around the toxic beliefs and opinions of others on the internet.
In addition, young adults stressing themselves out by worrying about body image, likes and comments, and followers, all at a higher risk of becoming a cyberbullying victim. Teens are simply relying on social media too much for validation and it is in turn affecting their mental health. A small study conducted on teens aged 13-18 by the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found that receiving a “like” increased activity in the reward center of the brain!
I strongly believe the stress being placed on our younger generation has a direct link to mental illness. Not only has social media negatively impacted our lives, but the added pressure of getting good grades in a rigid environment like public school is definitely connected to anxiety and depression levels. The National Center for Education Statistics studied high school transcripts from 2009 and found that high school seniors were taking an average of 27.2 credits, as opposed to the 23.6 credits earned by seniors in 1990. Not only were high school seniors in 2009 taking more classes, they were also taking harder classes. To add to this stress, we also have to worry about getting into college, how we’re going to pay for it, if we’ll graduate and find a job, and then how we’ll pay off the student loans. Not that older generations didn’t fret about such things, but college has gotten much more competitive and expensive. Juggling the troubles of school, doing homework, maintaining a social life, getting enough sleep, eating and exercising properly, getting family time, and being expected to stay stress-free is insane.
This is a topic that not many people like to talk about, but I believe it influences most young adults. To put it bluntly, some old people can be mean. And very negative. Not only do we have to strive to meet peoples’ high expectations, but we also have to listen to many elderly people openly express their belief that this generation is a failure. The way numerous elders view my generation is that we are all dumb, ignorant, entitled, rude, and even weak. Ageism refers to prejudice or discrimination based on someone’s age, and, believe it or not, teens deal with it every day.
With an already stressful, anxiety-filled life, we honestly need all the support and positivity we can get. We don’t want to feel like failures before we even have a chance to succeed. Not to mention, the discrimination and stereotyping is really not great for those already suffering with a mental illness. Here’s a great article I found on ageism: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_happens_when_old_and_young_connect
These were just a few of my opinions on some conditions that may be affecting young adults’ well-being. There are so many other factors involved, but these are the points that came to mind. Now, the question remains: What can we do about it? I will be discussing some possible ways we can improve adolescent mental-health in my next blog post, and I hope you stick around to hear some of my ideas!