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Adolescents today, are known for many things: Being lazy, ungrateful, spoiled, fragile, whiny, addicted to social media, and much more. But one trait, in particular, stands out. Teenagers today are known for being the most mentally ill generation.
Rates of depression in teenagers have soared in the past 25 years, and along with anxiety rank consistently higher than that of any other age group, and such mental illnesses have often lead to dire consequences. Every 100 minutes, a teen takes their own life. Self harm often starts at ages 13-15, and can even occur as early as 7 years old. In fact, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-24.
So exactly why are teenagers so depressed and anxious? Researchers have come to the conclusion that high levels of stress and perfectionism, coupled with the constant exposure to media influences, have placed these teenagers at risk.
As people who grew up with the rise of social media and technology, teenagers know better than anyone how easy it is to gain information. Our lives are filled with instagram posts, snapchat stories, news articles and tweets. Each media post is designed to showcase only the best of someone else’s life, while each news article reports on the most saddening news. It is a lifestyle built upon the juxtaposition of unrealistic expectations of perfect lives and the crushing reality of modern day societal issues.
We, as a generation, have been raised to become high-achieving. From a young age, we are taught to work hard in school, to look a certain way, to match up to our peers, while still standing out in order to become successful. Our generation was raised on the values of multidimensional perfectionism, in which we constantly pursue a multitude of conditions defining success. This emphasis on perceived individual success has caused a near obsession with one’s self-worth and self-image, and is only exacerbated by the prolific use of social media. The natural tendency to compare oneself to the most perfectly portrayed facet of others leads to an incredibly high amount of stress within today’s teenagers. Take for example, the unrealistic beauty standard set by photoshopped models. The constant pursuit of this beauty standard has led to a decrease in self-worth, an increase in worry over body image, and the rise of eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. Furthermore, easy access to news articles reporting on modern societal problems has led to a culture in which its is nearly impossible to distance oneself from the daily horrific news. We live in an era where we are more aware of world issues than ever. A survey conducted in the United Kingdom has shown that at least one in 10 teenagers reported strong feelings of anxiety over current world affairs. The ever changing dynamic of the international community, and the general economic and political instability constantly reported on has led to an inherent fear of the future. We grow up knowing that at any moment, someone could walk into our school and start shooting. That our government may undergo sudden and drastic changes. That by the time we graduate college, there won’t be enough jobs in the market for all of us to live well. All of this knowledge is fed to us on a daily basis, and only adds onto our stress, leading to increased anxiety levels. In fact, in any given year about 17% of us will have an anxiety disorder—and over our lives, about 28% of us will have an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, if you have one anxiety disorder, it’s highly likely that you actually have two or three, along with depression. Studies have also shown that the average anxiety levels of modern day teens are equivalent to that of a psychiatric patient in the 1950s, proving just how serious yet normalized the issues of mental health are.
Yet another problem lies in the fact that our society is not equipped to handle and help those who have mental illnesses. In a 2016 survey, 93 per cent of teachers reported seeing increased rates of mental illness among children and teenagers and 90 per cent thought the issues were getting more severe, with 62 per cent dealing with a pupil’s mental-health problem at least once a month and an additional 20 per cent doing so on a weekly or even daily basis. However, researchers have also found that most academic staff lack the knowledge and training to address issues with student mental health.
Now is the time for change. In order to provide a better and safer lifestyle for out children, our future, we must take action in the present. These teenagers need support in order to recover from mental illnesses, and that support must be provided in an efficient and proper manner. As a society concerned for our future generations, we must put into place certain mental health safety nets, such as training for all academic staff, in order to protect these teenagers.
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