Generation Y (a group also known as “millennials”) and Generation X will someday inherit the future. However, they may not be as prepared for this task as past generations. In addition to increasing rates of physical health problems, such as obesity and its related diseases, mental health among teenagers and 20-somethings seems to be taking a turn for the worse.
Indeed, five times as many teens and young adults now score above cutoffs meeting psychopathology criteria as they did in the earlier through mid-20th century, research published in Clinical Psychology Review found. Another alarming statistic is that one out of every four college students suffers from some form of mental illness — including depression — yet 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health issues.
Despite these disturbing figures, it seems that mental health resources catering to this cohort leave much to be desired. For starters, it has been reported that “among children and adolescents with symptoms of mental health problems, one study found that only 10 percent had received any specialty mental health evaluation or service in the past year.” Furthermore, when they do seek appropriate help — few are satisfied with the level of support offered by their health care provider.
Many theories as to why younger people are experiencing increasing rates of mental illness have been proposed. Slate contributor Brooke Donatone attributes this phenomenon to “helicopter parenting”— that is, parents who constantly hover around their child, often coddling them, making it difficult for the child to become independent. Donatone cites a study that found that, “College students who experienced helicopter-parenting reported higher levels of depression and use of antidepressant medications. The researchers suggest that intrusive parenting interferes with the development of autonomy and competence.”
Others, such Dr. Jean Twenge, author of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” argue that an epidemic of narcissism and materialism is to blame for teens’ mental health woes. Ultimately, she asserts, “Narcissism and the rising but inaccurate levels of self-evaluation can ultimately lead to deeper disappointment in one’s self and depression from alienation caused by increased self-involvement.” Furthermore, because so many teens are focused on crafting a certain image of themselves via social media, “They get the message that ‘extrinsic’ values like how people perceive them — virtually or in reality — is of greater importance than ‘intrinsic’ values like their personal goals and the development of a unique self.”
Finally, a decline in millennial mental health is intrinsically tied to the higher levels of stress they feel. Indeed, the American Psychological Association reports that, “Younger Americans report experiencing the most stress and the least relief — they report higher stress levels than older generations and say they are not managing it well.”
Many blame this occurrence on the state of economic affairs. Not only is college becoming more expensive — leaving students with potentially overwhelming debt — it’s becoming harder and harder for recent grads to find gainful employment. Not only can too much stress lead to depression (and exacerbate mental illness in general), depression makes it harder to effectively cope with stressful situations. It can become a perpetual cycle.
No matter the reason, one thing is for sure — mental illness is a very real issue faced by younger people, and because of this, the need for improved mental health care resources is more pressing than ever.