With eyes filled with concern and uncertainty, students scramble across the hallways clutching papers. They chatter nervously with their friends about the latest difficult assignment, the most recent dilemma that had them tossing and turning at night, and about how tired they feel. This is the stress and anxiety found in the average student and in recent years, the average teenager.
The reality of adolescence seems to be a contrast to the fun and light hearted high school movies we grew up watching. Despite the increase in mental health awareness and repeated efforts to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness, the current generation seems more anxious and depressed than previous ones.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25 percent of all teens have some form of an anxiety disorder, with six percent having a severe anxiety disorder and all forms of the disorder predicted to have lifetime prevalence. Anxiety currently affects 18.1 percent of the population, a huge increase from the 7.3 percent of the population in 1990. To make things worse, according to the Child Mind Institute 80 percent of children and young adults with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not receiving treatment.
The most prevalent anxiety disorder is social anxiety, affecting 15 million Americans each year. The average age of onset for social anxiety is thirteen years old. Therefore, it is no wonder that with the rise of social media and communication, social anxiety rates have also risen among our youth who are most involved in these new methods of communication.
With social media, the fear of not being liked or accepted is amplified, and fear of missing out on social experiences and events is overwhelming. Our lives and our identities are left completely exposed on social media.
Often teenagers debate and be scrutinized over a post, afraid and anxious about what other people will say and think about it. As part of the social media environment, cyberbullying is more prevalent than ever in the new age of technology and victims cannot escape the barrage of insults any longer, since it follows them everywhere. We are a generation of test takers, with an education system that, now more than ever, emphasizes the importance of multiple standardized tests, honors, and advanced classes.
With “No Child Left Behind” policies imposing multiple standardized testing qualifications for graduation, the strain on students’ academic success is even greater than before. Many school counselors are forced to administer tests rather devote time to student’s mental health problems. Additionally, each year there is more competition and pressure to appear as a better applicant to college admission committees.
The pressure to perform that we experience brings an unprecedented form of academic anxiety. Especially in this generation which has seen the effects of a recession and economic insecurity; the fear of not obtaining an adequate job or future is hanging over their heads. The new generation is not more anxious because of overdiagnosis or self-diagnosis; societal change has triggered their anxiety.
We are the post 9/11 generation, raised in a frightening environment where shootings and terrorism are the norm. We grew up watching our parents and other adults struggling through a severe an economic recession. We are the Trump generation, we witness the rights of millions being stripped away every day. We are the first generation to go through the challenges of adolescence surrounded by technology and social media.
In order to help young teens, adults must validate and recognize their mental illness and we need more education about the effects of social media on our youth. If the mental damage on the youth is not lessened it will inevitably lead to a damage on our society; as we struggle to fund mental health care for millions more Americans and the next generation of leaders is infected with the anxiety epidemic.