A Rise in Anxiety and Depression in the Lives of America’s Young Adults

We’re experiencing exponential growth in cases of anxiety and depression

Many young adults in the United States today find themselves suffering with varying levels of anxiety, depression and many other mental health disorders. It’s strange to see so many young people struggling with such intense emotional and mental illnesses. Young people are meant to be happy and full of life, with opportunity on their side. But it seems that in many cases, quite the opposite is true.

Over the last fifty years, anxiety levels among young adults in the United States have been steadily rising, and these days they’re at an all-time high. In fact, estimations show that the number of high school and college aged youths with anxiety and/or depression has more than quadrupled since the 1950’s. Some studies show that there has even been a dramatic increase in anxiety and depression among young children and adolescents.

As a young adult myself, I have come across far too many peers who suffer from such disorders. Even from the time I was in middle school, I had a friend who very clearly suffered from a plethora of disorders such as body dysmorphia, anxiety, bouts of depression and borderline personality.

I have several friends, even today, who struggle with anxiety and depression. Even more surprising, a few years ago, I discovered that I too struggle with a very mild form of anxiety, something I never even recognized in myself until after seeking therapy as a means of coping with a bout of situational depression.

In college, I witnessed first-hand the terrible outcomes that mental health disorders can lead to, when a friend of mine decided to take his own life.

So what’s causing this rise in depression and anxiety among the people in our younger generations? Why are we all so terribly unbalanced?

Many people point fingers at social media. With the aid of websites like Facebook and applications like Instagram, we are constantly having the seemingly perfect lives of our peers, shoved in our faces. We see the lives of people we knew way-back-when, who we probably wouldn’t talk to, or even see were it not for social media. We find ourselves comparing our own lives to theirs, and the pressure to “get it together” is so immense, that our psyches are being crushed. Social media tends to show more of the good than the bad, and seeing all the good that other people have going on for them tends to make some people feel less than. It’s possible that anxiety and depression are being experienced on a larger scale these days, because we have access to a means that invites comparison and self judgement, as where in the past, this simply did not exist.

One commonality among healthy minded people is a sense of control in their lives. People who believe that they have no control over what happens to them, and that they are victims of circumstance, are more likely to be afflicted with anxiety and/or depression. When a person believes that he or she has the ability to determine the outcome of his or her own life through self-confidence and an ability to make decisions, he or she is less likely to suffer from either of these mental health disorders. Studies indicate that young people’s belief in their own ability to control their lives has decreased over the years, correlating with the rise in rates of anxiety and depression.

Other theories indicate that the rise in cases of anxiety and depression are related to a shift in individual goals from being intrinsic, to being extrinsic. A person who has intrinsic goals is more concerned with the development of themselves as a person. For example, improving personal skills and abilities, maintaining good health, developing a positive relationship with themselves, and embracing their spirituality. Individuals who have more extrinsic goals are more likely to strive for material rewards and external praise. For example, focusing on status, wealth, appearances, and doing things that will earn them the approval of others. Studies show that the youth of today tend to be more focused on embracing an extrinsic than an intrinsic way of life. It is thought that this shift could be directly related to the rise of anxiety and depression in the newer generations.

Still other studies suggest that the rise in mental health disorders, especially among even younger generations, could be related to the depreciation of free play in schools. Without the freedom to play and explore on their own, children have less opportunity to develop confidence and independence. Historically, having the opportunity to partake in free play has given children the opportunity to learn how to solve problems on their own as well as develop and pursue their own interests. With less emphasis on the importance of free play in a child’s life, we are rearing a generation of children who are more insecure, less independent and more prone to mental and emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression.

I personally believe that the culmination of all these things have led to the rises we’ve seen in mental health and behavioral disorders alike. Society wants us to believe that we should aspire for material gains. That we need to make money in order to be happy. Social media tells us that our peers are doing better than us, and it makes us feel bad. Many people believe that they don’t have any control over the things that happen in their lives. They believe that bad things can happen to them in any given moment, and that they have no control over any of it, and that creates anxiety, which can lead to depression. Finally, we’re starting to create severely dependent children without any sense of who they are or what they want to be, without any skills for problem solving, or freedom to try and understand the world around them.  And on top of all these things, there are still people who come from bad homes, with bad parenting, and abuse, and neglect, and whatever else…

It’s no wonder so many of us are suffering with anxiety and depression. The world is fueling these illnesses and spreading them around the globe like wildfire.

Referrences: Twenge, J., et al., (2010)



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