The Growing Teenage Mental Health Crisis

Globally, we’ve all been through a tough time, and worsening economic pressures are doing little to help. As we tentatively enter the post-pandemic era, one thing is horrifyingly clear – […]

Globally, we’ve all been through a tough time, and worsening economic pressures are doing little to help. As we tentatively enter the post-pandemic era, one thing is horrifyingly clear – our teenagers are struggling. The number of young people being diagnosed with depression and other mental health issues is booming, and not in a good way. Teens are more depressed and anxious than ever. What can we do about it?

Understanding Common Issues Among Teens

As older people, it’s frighteningly easy to dismiss teenage mental health issues. After all, what do “they” have to be so concerned about? You wish you had their troubles!

Time to hold up and apply the brakes right there.

For even the youngest parent, the world our modern teens are growing up in is a vastly different one to that we experienced. The older you are, the more distance in “teen culture” there is.

We already know that several of these seismic shifts in the coming-of-age landscape have led to deteriorating mental health among the young and vulnerable. Express VPN’s study on teenage social media habits makes very clear how this handy tool for connection and friendship has a very dark side, and our young, still-developing minds are most at risk to these pitfalls.

Additionally, obsessive use of digital devices, often replacing a real sense of connection to their peers and older adults, brings its own toll. Then we need to add cyberbullying, and the inability of the socially awkward or different to escape those shredding their mental health to the mix. It wasn’t great to be bullied at school in the 80s, but at least they could come home and get away from the pressure. Likewise, the doom-and-gloom of the news cycle, concerns about the environment and economy, and other issues are now open to them much younger, at a time in their development where emotions are deeply felt and despair and negativity is more easy than ever to come by.

As marketers have realized how powerful access to young and still-developing minds are, we’ve seen “influencer culture” exploited for less-than-wholesome purposes. With even grown adults falling prey to toxic echo chambers and the lure of celebrity, personality, and aspirational FOMO, is there any surprise that teens, who have yet to fully develop a fully regulated brain link between emotion and decision making, are particularly vulnerable?

It’s also worth noting that children and adolescents are less engaged in health habits than ever before. Increasing homework loads and familial worries mean sleep quality and hours have dropped for the demographic. Exercise habits have worsened, and the challenges of the pandemic era mean less in-person socialization than ever is taking place. Additionally, with the lowering age of puberty-onset, more children enter the adolescent period, where social hierarchy and one’s “place in the world” become critically important, younger and younger. Yet the maturity needed to grapple mindfully with these issues has lagged behind, leaving a vicious cycle where the ability of the brain to process the feelings, and the feelings themselves, have a widening gulf between them.

Add to that educational and familial pressures that have only gotten heavier, the widening poverty gap that many young minds are growing in, and worries about acceptance for things like gender perception, sexuality, and more, and it’s a far darker landscape that’s greeting our youth.

What the Stats Tell Us

In the relatively short period between 2007 and 2019, the number of adolescents with at least one major depressive episode in their history jumped 60%, to 13% of the overall adolescent population. Additionally, emergency room visits covering anxiety, self-harm, or mood disorders have jumped. The once-stable suicide rate amoung 10-24 year olds also leapt by about 60% during that time according to CDC data.

Interestingly, this seems to hold up across racial, urban/rural, socioeconomic, and ethnic divisions.

Tackling Teenage Mental Health Issues

We know one thing for certain – the earlier and more effectively anyone can access mental health care to smooth life’s woes, and the better the outcome. However, between funding issues, lack of attention to the issue, adult dismissal, poverty, and lack of access to interventions, this is often easier said than done. What can we do?

Boost Understanding

Progress on addressing mental health issues in any demographic is hampered by the stigmas still clinging to them. For teenagers, specifically, it’s important that their “frontline adults” – parents, teachers, and counselors –  are open with information on mental health struggles and provide a nurturing environment that encourages discussion and treatment-seeking.

It’s also important to realize that cries of “overdiagnosis” do neither our teenagers nor society as a whole any good. It’s tempting to wipe our hands of the issue and lay the blame on “money-hungry” medical practitioners, yet this is little but a feel-good strategy that does nothing to help those struggling.

Dedicated Treatment

Likewise, it’s important to recognise when a helpful adult ear is no longer enough. With a greater focus on teenage-specific issues, and dedicated treatment centers for them, the further support network needed can be developed. Of course, not every teenage mental health issues needs residential care, but with a greater focus on education, familial approaches, and so on, the resource network to deal with a crisis is available as needed.

Early-Stage Resources

We’ve also seen a boom in recent years in resource availability, particularly focusing on early detection of worsening mental health or behavioral issues. With technology also offering fantastic potential for connectivity and access, it’s a changed model of mental health care. Introducing it as a holistic part of overall wellness not only helps challenge stigmas, but address causes at the roots before a more damaging spiral has been entered.

Now more than ever it is critical that mental health providers, families, and the wider world reacts to the challenges of teenage mental health issues. From battling stigmas and creating more nurturing, inclusive environments, to ensuring families of all economic levels can access treatment and resources, the choice to help our younger generations starts with us.

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