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As of recently, research suggests that the mental state of the youth in America is deteriorating. It’s becoming more and more common as the environment around adolescents become filled with stress from the increasingly competitive world around them. What leads to mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety, can’t be narrowed down to just one cause, but instead a multitude of probable causes that are still being studied. They range from one of the most obvious ones such as stress from school and technology, to whether or not you were born as a full-term baby.
Just searching one of the most known causes of mental issues in teens, school and the environment it comes with, throws readers into a whirlwind of first-hand stories from those who have experienced them. One of the many stories that included an account from a victim was an article from The Atlantic by Lucy Dwyer, a writer from St. Louis, “Salli-Ann Holloway could not breathe. Sitting in her Advanced Placement English class, she could not stop shaking… Her body went numb”. It’s implied that the stress from her advanced placement class had finally reached its breaking point causing a physical reaction known as a panic attack. An untreated (or undiagnosed) mental disorder could have more drastic consequences than just behavior, it could potentially alter a person’s physical health as well. Additionally, it’s not only the simple classes from high school or middle school affecting the teens, involvement in extracurricular activities like sports, band, and college classes should be taken into consideration as well. For those who aren’t academically gifted, sports and the arts would be placing just as much pressure on them since they’re solely relying on their talents to secure them a safe future.
One of the communities in society that suffers more than any other from mental health issues would be the LGBT community. Due to discrimination against those who identify as LGBT in places like middle and high school, the students’ academic potential is hindered and their mentality becomes the breeding ground for depression. An article that fully covers the effect a person’s sexual orientation can have on mental issues is, “Sexual Orientation and Depression: Statistics and Where to Find Help”. The author Michael Kerr elaborated on just how much a hostile environment can be toxic to the affected, “LGBT students who experience victimization and discrimination typically have worse grades and don’t perform as well academically”. If minor distractions can already lead to poor academic performances, put yourself in the shoes of those that are also victims of discrimination based on their sexuality. Since there’s so much negativity around those youths, it’s not hard to imagine why they have a higher likelihood of mental illness than those who are not LGBT.
While it may seem minor in comparison to the last cause, an often overlooked stressor that could be negatively impacting the youth of America is getting a job to help their families through tough times or to be financially independent. This cause to depression and anxiety also ties in with those previously mentioned since the student would not only be attending school but also sacrificing their homework time for their shifts. It brings in the suggestion that teachers and other authoritative figures of an educational place should be open to working with their students in a way that they can feel supported. The Mental Health of America (MHA) association reveals that more than half of all college students are employed, so with the worry of paying for their education and being successful in their classes there needs to be awareness of a lot of stress harming mental health.
Since this piece specifically states that its focus is youths of America, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the generations referred to as “youths” have grown up surrounded by technology that is ever evolving. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, discusses in, “With Teen Mental Health Deteriorating over Five Years, There’s a Likely Culprit” how screen time can affect mental illnesses or vice versa. While doing so she presents the thought that “not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time online was linked to mental health issues”. This observes that the more time spent on a phone surfing through the web, the larger the possibility for mental illnesses in the youth of today. Twenge points out that due to being more interested in what’s on the screens around us we are interacting less with others, causing the feeling of isolation that can be one of the symptoms to many mental problems. Along with the rise in use of technology, inevitably comes the abuse of social media available in order to hurt one another.
Cyberbullying has seen a rise over the past decade due to the popularization of social media among the younger generations. As a result, as social media has spread so has the “trend” of cyberbullying. Summarized from an article titled “Cyberbullying And Depression Go Hand In Hand, According To New Study”, published by the reputable site Huffington Post, as new research emerges depression and cyberbullying are found to be connected. If left unresolved, like any other bullying, it can lead to mental disorders such as anxiety from whenever the victims’ phone goes off with a notification and even depression from the viciousness in the snide comments made by the harassers. A more shocking part of this form of harassment is that often times those attacking are victims of their own bullying, whether online or in person, looking to take out their frustrations on another person. When the depression of victims goes unnoticed some of those teens are then seemingly pushed to the point of committing suicide. There are more negatives, than only cyberbullying, on social media that lead to the worsening mental states of juveniles.
The more a person is on social media the worse they may start to feel about themselves and those who use it the most tend to have more anxiety as emphasized in the piece, “It’s Complicated: Teens, Social Media, and Mental Health”. Anxiety can come from the presentation of a “perfect life” being lived by many influencers on sites such as Instagram. Even though the viewers know that the person isn’t actually living an adventure everyday in exotic places, there’s still the subconscious thought of “why can’t or why isn’t my life like that”. For some, there’s a naivety that can be created after looking at too much of the “perfect” posts. When they get to adulting one of the other speculated reasons as to why anxiety sets in is because the way life isn’t always as “perfect” as it can be portrayed. Social media usage doesn’t have to be cut off, but people should have a limit so as to not get carried away and end up spiraling down a hole of depression and anxiety caused by lowered self-esteems.
It’s not just factors that can be fixed or worked on like bullying, technology use, and pressure from school and home environments that impact the mental state of a person. A theory that ,although admittedly, needs more research but still presents a different take on causes and probabilities of mental health issues that start from birth, is the how soon an individual was born. Being born premature or full term is being found to affect people in their future mental state as they continue to develop. In a study conducted by Dr. Cynthia Rogers, a child psychiatrist at the Washington University in St. Louis, showed that even though there was not an alarming difference between the brain connectivity in premature babies and full-term ones there was still weaker connections in the premature children making them more susceptible to mental issues in the future. A side note that Dr. Rogers gave in the article, “Signs Of Depression And Anxiety Can Be Seen In Newborns” by Carolyn Gregoire was, “experiences and environment that they are exposed to as they grow may alter these connectivity patterns making it more or less likely for these symptoms to develop”. While the likelihood of a premature baby to later in life have mental issues is higher it’s still being studied in order to gain more concrete reliable evidence and can still be altered by the environment and experiences the children have.
Narrowing down the causes of the recent increase in mental health problems in the youth of America is nearly impossible but there are some that are more prevalent than others. Thanks to the scholarly research of many psychologists and scientists alike, depression and anxiety can be rooted down as the effect of factors like pressures in school life which could tie into sexuality, stress from jobs, the length of a woman’s pregnancy, and most impactful technology. As a unit, they have shown to lead to the decline in mentally healthy teens and young adults with some connecting to one another.
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