It can be disconcerting to see young and otherwise physically healthy people in distress from mental health issues. Many pundits have colloquially observed that mental health problems in young adults seem to be on the rise among adolescents and young adults. Part of the reason more young people appear to be suffering from mental illness than in previous times is that the stigma surrounding such disorders is decreasing.
As a result, more and more people are openly discussing their problems. While this openness does indeed take on the appearance of an alarming increase, it is ultimately part of the process of healing.
Unfortunately, it would also be accurate to say that mental health disorders are indeed on the rise among young people. Mental health disorders and obesity are the greatest health threats to young people today.
Children and adolescents are vulnerable to a wide variety of mental health disorders. These range from bipolar disorder to anxiety disorders such as panic attacks. According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins, one in every six girls experienced a major depressive episode in the last year.
While it is important to recognize the role of genetics and other uncontrollable biological factors, social problems such as drug addiction and economic recession are major contributors to the epidemic. Let’s look at some of these factors now.
Factors Contributing to Mental Health Problems in Young Adults
Academic pressure has been on the rise over the last few decades. It’s no longer possible to get into an elite college on the strength of As and Bs alone. Prestigious universities demand that high school seniors possess at least a 4.0 GPA.
Students are under pressure from a young age to build a resume for college demonstrating leadership roles in student organizations, volunteer and community service, and even sometimes research experience. These pressures can mount for many young people and cause them to feel high levels of anxiety. Feelings of desperation and hopelessness can make even middle schoolers feel depressed about their future.
Long gone are the days when children went outside unsupervised to play hopscotch with their friends. Infants are now handed iPhones in lieu of pacifiers. For many children, the vast majority of their relationships are mediated by online platforms.
This can be socialization difficult. Seeing idealized versions of their peers can also instill in young people a sense of inadequacy, of not living the opulent lives that their peers give off the impression of living via carefully curated images. These feelings of inadequacy can make young people set unrealistic expectations for themselves.
Eating disorders are on the rise among children even as young as 8 years old. Competition with peers can also cause students to take on work loads that are too high. These pressures, while obviously being a source of anxiety in and of themselves, can also lead young people to take performance-enhancing drugs like Adderall.
Substance abuse is common among young adults and teenagers. While abusing drugs and alcohol is always harmful, for developing brains in particular the consequences can be catastrophic. Young people, who do not have fully developed prefrontal cortexes, have poor decision-making skills.
They are more likely to engage in risky behavior with mind-altering substances. To make matters worse, drugs also affect young people differently. The “highs” they experience are different from the “highs” that adults experience. When young adults abuse substances, they actually affect the growth of their own brains. Learning, language acquisition, memory, and emotional self-regulation are all impacted by substance abuse.
Lifestyle Skills Young People Can Use to Cope
Practicing some basic good habits can help young people stay mentally healthy.
- Exercise. Study after study has shown that aerobic exercise has benefits for mental health and stability. For people engaging in social activities like team sports, the benefits are magnified.
- Meditation. Taking a pause from the hectic day and just focusing on the breath can do wonders for your peace of mind.
- Proper diet and nutrition. Physical health and mental health are linked in a lot of ways. Paying attention to what you put into your body can be a great first step toward tackling emotional issues.
- Spending time with friends and family. Having a strong social support system can be what makes the difference between someone who buckles under pressure and someone who takes it in stride.
Sometimes, however, good habits aren’t enough. For young people who are experiencing some kind of mental health crisis, it is important to turn to outside help. This help can come in the form of a therapist or counselor. Psychiatrists can also offer medical treatments for many mental health disorders.
Mental health services also include inpatient programs. For those suffering from substance abuse disorder, it is worth looking into rehabs and sober livings. These treatment programs help young people recover from their addictions while also helping them gain life-skills. Counselors at these programs work with addicts to treat underlying conditions such as depression and anxiety disorder.
Ultimately, treating mental health conditions is rarely a quick fix. It usually involves a great deal of reflection, working on a variety of habits and life skills, and even sometimes rethinking ones relationships and career. It is important to take the time necessary — and even more important to swallow one’s pride and ask for help.