Mental Wellness and the Impact on Young Adults

Written by: Ashley Miller, MS, LPC, SAC

A recent study from American Psychological Association found that “a percentage of young Americans experiencing certain types of mental health disorders has risen significantly over the past decade, with no corresponding increase in older adults”. What does this mean in regards to young adults and what they are facing? Mental wellness is more important than ever to incorporate at a young age to be able to manage life stressors, that have shifted and changed in the past 15 years.

“More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010’s, versus the mid-2000’s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide”, said lead author Jean Twenge, PhD, author of book “iGen” and the professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of overall increase across all ages”.

Adolescents are one of my favorite populations to work with. I personally have seen the psychological distress that face the youth I come into contact with.  You may be wondering, as I was, what are the potential causes in this increase and how can we help? Many things have shifted in our culture, a large part connected to social media and constant connectedness. The want to be socially connected is a part of normal adolescent development, just the way that looks has changed over generations. A recent book, speaking specifically to adolescent girls, and looks at some theories in regards to what may be going on.

“Under Pressure, confronting the epidemic of stress and anxiety on girls” by Lisa Damour, PhD, speaks on many of the pressures facing young adults today, specifically females. She states in her book that teens are actually reporting feeling more stressed than their parents for the first time in the adolescent developmental stage. The academic pressures, that begin as early as the start of middle school, as well as what career path you want to take, can be overwhelming. Youth today work to build their “resume” as early as possible, looking at extra-curricular activities, volunteering, sports, and academics in form of advanced classes as a way to stand apart from their peers. This leaves little time for unstructured and what I like to call “recharge” time. Once your time gets out of balance, it can be very difficult to bring it back.

Social media, no doubt, as impacted all age brackets. In direct impact on young adults, it may have a bigger impact because of the stage of development they are in. They may have a more difficult time regulating use and more negatively impacted by what is posted by others. Seeing high- lighted reels of others can impact self-esteem and peer groups. Many young adults I have worked with have intentionally disconnected because of a negative experience in their lives. Social media is complicated and disconnecting doesn’t automatically solve the problems. For youth, and adults for that matter, disconnecting can feel just as it states, like you are isolated from your social group. Working to find balance in regards to social connection, life obligations and self-care are beneficial across the life span but an especially invaluable skill for young adults to develop prior to adulthood. Support a young adult you know with providing them understanding and helping them balance all that they have in front of them. Mental wellness learned as a teen will only help carry that focus throughout one’s life.