The rising trend in youth anxiety and depression is alarming and well documented. Most of it has been attributed to the unforgiving effects of the the pandemic lockdown and its aftermath on youth mental health. But, could that be all?
Youth anxiety brought on by stress from changes, in social interactions, unemployment, poverty, dysfunctional homes, unsafe neighborhoods, inequality, racism and use of social media; is on fire. Youth are becoming more despondent about their future than ever.
A recent publication in The Lancet (November, 2021), makes an extraordinary, yet interesting read on youth anxiety.
It discusses additional factors, such as youth exposure to cultural, political and economic shifts, complicated by unrealistic expectations on youth; as a new way to look at youth anxiety.
The author explains that in addition to youth involvement with contemporary issues, such as global conflicts, climate change activism sexism, racism and classism, they are also overwhelmed by “you can have it all” empowerment mantras, affirmations, aspirational future careers, success, acquisition of material comforts and happiness. Although well intentioned, there is a chance that these could backfire; especially with adolescent girls. Inability to live up to these expectations, could make them feel that they are not good enough, resulting in anxiety.
The terminology ‘the new Age of Anxiety” comes from this narrative, where the author explains that youth anxiety results from the disconnection or mismatch between expectations and youth daily reality.
Society expects youth to be and act a certain way. These expectations may not match with their day to day home, classroom, online and workplace experiences, making them worry and feeling lost.
The “new Age of Anxiety” is a plausible position. It provides insight and additional ways to identify youth anxiety. On the other hand, inspirational messages, affirmations, empowerment mantras are valuable as well. Positive vibes are necessary to bolster youth psychological well-being.
So, how can we support youth to navigate this “new age of anxiety”?
· Cross-cultural youth mental health literacy is critical in helping youth overcome anxiety through information.
· Support youth in crisis to access help lines. Visit family doctor or nurse practitioner as the first step in getting interdisciplinary professional health care services.
· Encourage self expression through journaling, to allow youth to vent their frustrations, challenge their thoughts and feelings.
· Understand and support youth distress in a changing, complex world. Attaining a greater understanding of youth angst will inform innovative approaches to care for youth mental well-being.