Today’s youth navigate a landscape never truly experienced before, and with no specific guidance or North Star to lead the way. It’s hardly a surprise then that this is the population most plagued by mental health concerns. With rapid changes in lives due to technological advancements and new developments in social media, it can be hard to find one’s footing. In addition, the world is grappling with an emergency like never before — there is constant, climbing civil unrest, the very real threat of climate change clubbed with a global pandemic at our very doorstep — and the youth is right at the centre of it all, facing their own crisis — the mental health crisis.
Data published by the United Nations suggests that one in every five young adults experiences a mental illness which can manifest in an individual as early as when they are 14 years old. These numbers are staggering because not only is this 20 per cent of the entire youth population, but also not fully representative of all mental health concerns the youth may be facing as several may still be undiagnosed. These illnesses affect both their present life and also may have long lasting effects stretching into adulthood and beyond.
So, what are some common mental health problems that the youth are facing?
As many as one in every 20 Indians is reported to experience depression at least once in their lives. This is different from the normal sadness or ‘blues’ almost everyone experiences, and can be a much more serious and disruptive illness. Often defined as a persisting and constant feeling of sadness or emptiness, the illness can take root in an individual due to genetics, a major disruptive life event or can even arise as a result of chemical changes taking place in the body during or after puberty.
Another common mental health concern the youth is facing at an alarming level is rising anxiety. It is usually not uncommon to face anxiety from time to time, especially before a big or nerve wracking event. However, when it becomes an enduring and continuous facet of one’s life, it can be defined as an anxiety disorder. The disorder can be overpowering and debilitating, and may also interfere with daily functioning to a great extent.
Eating disorders are also another mental health ailment that the youth is grappling with. Such disorders can affect a large chunk of this population and are usually characterised by harmful eating behaviours or an unhealthy relationship with food, such as in anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The disorder may also lead to having a distorted view of one’s own body. It can also exacerbate any other mental illness an individual might be facing or even lead to the development of one.
Why is the youth facing such a mental health crisis?
There are many factors that can lead to the development of such disorders, and it is helpful to look at each individual subjectively. However, there are certain very unique factors that are driving this overwhelming decline of youth mental health specifically.
Firstly, the mounting pressure of navigating busy work and academic schedules, especially in such a difficult setting as today’s economy can cause great stress. The pressure to perform better and constantly top yourself is increasing more day by day, and the intensity of competition within these organizational or academic settings is also at an all time high. Expectations are immense, and being thrown into the world with no prior experience of time management or how to deal with these high expectations can lead to huge stress levels, further leading to the development of anxiety or depression.
Another cause of such mental health problems can be constant exposure to or usage of social media. While social media is a positive force in many aspects, many connections have been drawn to the increased use of social media and decline of mental health. Social media provides space for comparison, as you can freely share and thus, also see glimpses into the life of many. This comparison can be drawn to people from your own networks or even popular influencers and can make one feel very inadequate when pitted against someone else.
Seeing others’ accomplishments and achievements can lead to a constant sense of ‘not being good enough’, and this may be reflected in people’s view of their bodies too. Having to see an idolized body type plastered all over a social media feed can lead to an individual’s confidence being severely worn down and distorting their view of their own self.
In addition, the ‘hustle’ culture of social media which entails promoting a constant narrative of working and pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion, may make people believe that they are simply not doing enough. It can lead to a phenomenon known as ‘productivity guilt’, which in essence means that unless one is constantly working and proving themselves, they do not deserve to rest or be content.
In addition to these factors, many others like increased working hours, reduced sleep duration and maladaptive coping skills may be other reasons for the downward graph of mental health of the youth.
With the odds stacked so high against us, sometimes it can seem like a Sisyphean effort to tackle your own mental health concerns. However, there is still hope yet. The youth of today is the most progressive the world has ever seen in terms of recognising a decline in their mental health and not being ashamed to ask for help. The stigma shrouding this topic has been bust right open and voices calling out to recognise that this is a problem and deserves recognition are louder and bolder than ever before.
Advocacy for mental wellness and the right to mental wellbeing is centred in conversations surrounding youth issues, and the youth is the primary driving factor of such change. Even though such illnesses have become common, the openness to receiving therapy and practicing such mental health positive practices for better well-being goes to show the resilience of today’s youth.