Exploring the Huge Spike in Anxiety and Depression Diagnosis’ for Millennials
By: Erika Homan
The teens and young adults of our generation, often referred to as Millennials, are often associated in the world of psychology with a significant rise in depression and anxiety disorder diagnosis’. It is important to acknowledge that the large rise in mental illness for teens in the recent years is not random.
So, why does this generation struggle more than ever with depression and anxiety? What is different about this generation than past generations that might have caused this spike in mental illness?
One important factor that I would like to address, as well as a difference between this generation and all previous generations, is the fact that teens today were the first to experience childhood and early adolescence with smartphones. Us teens have grown up in an world of political division/tension, school shootings, terrorism, climate crisis, and the list goes on. While each generation has grown up in a time with a unique set of struggles, our generation has constantly been surrounded by these negative occurrences due to social media and our smartphones. Our phones allow the events of the world and the communication with others to be constantly at our fingertips, allowing us on one hand to be more easily updated and aware of the events of the world, but on the other hand, more strongly impacted by what is on our screens. Many professionals in and out of the world of psychology point to this as a reason for the spike in anxiety and depression disorder diagnosis’ for teens today compared to previous generations. This makes mental health care and awareness of mental illness significantly more essential today than ever before.
My aim in this project is not to warn against the use of social media, but to create more awareness of this generational difference and spark conversation around mental illness. Due to the difference between this generation and previous generations, we need to advocate for ourselves and our mental health in order to reverse this sad trend in diagnosis’.
The following video includes my personal statement on this subject as well as some of my peers’ responses to questions regarding the relationship between mental illness and social media use:
An article with a further explanation of the link between social media use and mental illness: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/14/703170892/a-rise-in-depression-among-teens-and-young-adults-could-be-linked-to-social-medi
Research points to the fact that the rise of social media and phone use directly correlates with the rise in depression and anxiety disorders.
Some Negative Impacts of Social Media Use:
- Increases risk of depression and anxiety
- Leads to a lack of sleep due to lower levels of melatonin hormone
- Shown to be a significant contributor to stress
- Can lead to self-esteem issues due to comparisons or cyberbullying
- Inhibits authentic social interactions
An article with a deeper explanation of the toxic side of social media: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/328749
In order to support those around us who may be struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses, we must be aware of some warning signs to look out for.
Symptoms of Depression in Teens According to the Mayo Clinic:
- Feelings of sadness for no apparent reason
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Constant tiredness/loss of energy
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Substance Abuse
- Self-Harm (Ex: Cutting or burning)
- Slowed thinking or speaking
Symptoms of Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) in Teens:
- Worries or fears that are disproportionate to reality of events
- Overthinking or jumping to worst-case scenario
- Irrational perception of events or occurrences as threats
- Difficulty with uncertainty
- Feelings of restlessness or inability to relax
- Fatigue or trouble sleeping
- Trembling or fidgeting
- Muscle tension or aches
How to Seek Help:
- Disconnect in order to reconnect: Try taking a “media fast” or limiting hours on screens. Understand that while phone use is not the number one source of your problems, it has its negative impacts and is one easy way to feel better. Taking a break from social media will relieve you of the stress it causes that you might not realize is impacting your mental health. It will allow for more meaningful connections with those around you, as well as an escape from the often toxic environment found on social media platforms.
- Depend on those closest to you. Lean on your most trusted friends or family for support. Speak up about your feelings.
- Consider consulting a professional: This could be a psychologist or therapist, primary healthcare provider, or even a school counselor. Seeking help from a professional is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Speak anonymously by calling a lifeline number:
- Find a support group through an organization such as National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Empathize with yourself. Understand how you are not the only one in this situation.
How to Support Others:
Within our communities, each of us plays a role in creating a safe and supportive environment for those around us. Since such large amounts of teens today are already diagnosed with anxiety or depression, it is important to acknowledge that you never know who may be struggling with their mental health. It sometimes can be the least expected person. Whether it be a classmate, family member, or close friend who is struggling, being able to effectively support those around us is essential today:
- Be aware of the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Look out for warning signs in those around you.
- Encourage treatment. Those struggling with anxiety or depression often are the last to realize that they need help or that help is available to them.
- Be someone who listens. Making those around you feel comfortable confiding in you and reassuring them that you are there for them can make a huge impact. Instead of only offering solutions or suggesting treatment, be supportive and empathize with their feelings.
- Reach out and check in. This can be inviting someone who appears to be struggling to spend time with you or take part in your plans. It also can be calling the person regularly or asking them how they are doing. These small actions can have large impacts.
- Understand the legitimacy and risk of suicide. Those with depression have a significantly increased risk of suicide. Any comment or suicidal behavior should be treated seriously. Some warning signs of suicide include: Statements or comments made about suicidal thoughts, getting the means to attempt suicide, self-harm, social withdrawal, substance abuse, or giving away meaningful belongings.
- Be patient. Symptoms often only improve over long periods of time, and watching a loved one struggle can be frustrating.
Call to Action:
In order to fully address the specific needs of this generation in terms of mental illness, it is important to be aware of how the fundamental differences between this generation and previous ones such as the rise of social media play a role in mental health. Technology has its benefits, but equally has its risks. Understanding the large role social media and technology plays in society today, both positively and negatively, is crucial in order to use it in a healthy way. Social media is not going to disappear, and technology will continue to advance whether or not we like it, so learning the skills needed in order to effectively use social media is something that we are responsible for, and those skills will be passed on to generations to come. This is essential in order to reverse the spike in depression and anxiety diagnosis’.
Social Media is here to stay. How do we develop a healthy relationship with it?
- Create balance. Limit your hours on social media per week. Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Become more in touch with how social media makes you feel. If a certain person you follows causes negative emotions for you, unfollow them. If a certain social media platform becomes toxic, delete your account. If a relationship with a person you are communicating with via the internet becomes unhealthy, do not hesitate to unfriend them. Prioritize your own happiness over the pressure to be connected online.
- Understand that what you see online is not a reflection of reality. The way people display their lives on social media is simply the image they want you to perceive them as. Avoid making comparisons or false assumptions.
- Unplug when around others. In order to have more fulfilling relationships and social interactions, try to avoid going on your phone when spending time with others. Be present and enjoy their company.
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