Today’s generation of young people are experiencing more mental health issues than ever.
According to the World Health Organization, 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide experience mental health disorders. The American Journal of Managed Care cites that “between 2008 and 2017, the amount of adults that experienced serious psychological distress in the last month increased among most age groups, with the largest increases seen among younger adults aged 18-25 (71%).”
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what the root causes are, but the Pew Research Center found that of the pressures teens face in the United States, 61% report feeling a lot of pressure to get good grades and three-in-ten say they feel a lot of pressure to look good (29%) and fit in socially (28%).
Key Factors in Youth Mental Health Issues
Here are four key factors that have shaped today’s mental health landscape:
1. Social Media
What is the first thing you do when your alarm goes off in the morning? I’ll be honest, I am one of those people who reaches over and grabs my phone before doing anything.
I check my work email, my personal email, my school email, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn (in that order). Sometimes I’ll respond to messages, sometimes I’ll get side-tracked and start working on a project, and sometimes I’ll go straight into the depths of self-criticism because I get triggered by someone else’s post.
In other words, I, like many young people, start the day feeling behind, frazzled, and “less than.” Yuck.
2. Information Overload
Our go-go-go society leaves people, especially young people, scrambling to keep up in ways they have never had to before. Information overload is one of the key reasons therapists like Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S, and Ohio-based Talkspace therapist, believe there is a higher prevalence of mental health issues in young people than in previous generations.
“It’s hard to step away from the constant cycle of news,” O’Neill said. “Whether you’re watching one of the 24 hour news channels on TV or you’re scrolling through one of the social media sites.”
3. Concerns About the Future
It’s impossible to scroll through your Instagram feed or flip through the TV without coming across some depressing piece of news. It’s hard to stay upbeat and have a positive outlook on life when everything you see around you is reminding you about all things that are going wrong in our world.
There are countless worthy causes to donate to, marches to participate in, and petitions to sign. It can feel like you are never doing enough to protect those in need. “One of the biggest stressors for young people is the growing concern related to climate change,” O’Neill shared, “a very real concern that could potentially impact their life in numerous ways.”
4. Mental Health Stigma
I used to feel embarrassed to tell people I saw a therapist. I would be vague or outright lie about why I was never available on Wednesday mornings. I would keep my conversations with my therapist hush-hush even though I was dying to share what I was learning. I didn’t want to appear weak, stupid, or anything less than perfect. It felt taboo all around.
The good news is the stigma around mental health issues finally seems to be lifting. “Younger individuals seem to view therapy more positively than previous generations,” O’Neill said. “Instead of viewing therapy as something for sick people, young people tend to view therapy as a way to take control of their wellness,” she added. “They tend to see it as self-care.”
Resources for Teens
There has been a rise in personal growth resources that help make living your best life more fun and accessible. Here are three of O’Neill’s favorite go-to resources for young people struggling with mental illness:
- Book: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson
- Book: 10% Happier by Dan Harris
- Podcast: This is Normal
While this generation of young people are suffering from high rates of mental illness, there seems to be quite a bit of hope. With more boundaries around social media, techniques to manage information overload, and professional help to navigate the highs and lows of this uncertain world, young people could help pave the way for a better and more holistic picture of what it means to live a happy life.