- Elisabeth Gaiganis
Today's Mental Health Crisis
It has become increasingly obvious that our youth today is facing a crisis of mental health, with increasing rates of teen suicide and higher levels of diagnoses than ever before; Harvard Medical School calls it "a national emergency among children and teens". Why are we so unprepared on an international level to manage and fight against this crisis and what has led us here? We'll take a look at varying opinions and online discussions surrounding the catastrophe facing our youth in order to find out what we can do today to create a brighter tomorrow for future generations.
According to the World Health Organization, at least 450 million people currently struggle with mental illness, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide. In the United States, it is the leading cause of debilitation among youth. This is not, however, an American issue; suicide is the leading or second cause of adolescent death in both Europe and Asia. SB news reports that Europe is leading the world in antidepressant consumption, despite having some of the best living conditions globally. Apparently from the year 2000 until two years ago, antidepressant usage in Europe has been on a constant rise, reaching an increase of over 140%. Recent OECD data revealed a dramatic increase in both anxiety and depression during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
The most common mental illnesses for teens today include:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Substance abuse disorders
A 2017 survey conducted in Britain by the Royal Society for Public Health found that social media users aged 14-24 believe that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter have "detrimental effects on their wellbeing," and that the platforms, while positively impactful in areas such as self-expression and community building, inflame both depression and anxiety levels as well as body image issues. Another negative effect reported was the deprivation of sleep. Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright of The Washington Post turn to the latter for their explanations of the mental health crisis: "Many of us are searching for answers. But a major culprit is hiding in plain sight: This generation of teens is the most sleep-deprived population in human history." Allegedly, "Adolescents who sleep fewer than eight hours a night are more likely to report symptoms of depression," and those who sleep an average of five hours a night are 81% more likely to consider self-harm. Turgeon and Wright explain that "sleep deprivation amps up the reactive, negative emotional centers of the brain, while the prefrontal cortex — which soothes and gives us perspective, judgment and emotional regulation — is less active. (...) Imagine an experiment in which researchers forced subjects to wake up three hours before their natural rise time, then asked them to perform complex cognitive tasks, for five days straight. That’s a description of the average teen’s school week." Youth-led entertainment publisher Screenshot reports that "there is a risk that with the current cost of living crisis in Europe reaching an unprecedented level, those who are struggling will experience greater anxiety or depression."
All in all, it seems that today's adolescents are facing unique challenges in the world they live in, and the addition of poorly researched school schedules and addictive social media usage further deplete both their mental health and the time they have to develop and indulge in healthy coping mechanisms and positively-impactful hobbies. Some experts recommend fundamental changes in how schools approach youth health such as later starting hours and more community-building exercises such as school trips as opposed to isolated schoolwork and heavy testing.
So what can you do as a young person to improve your mental health, regulate your feelings and decrease anxiety and depression levels? Although the causes of the teen mental health crisis are not agreed upon, most experts recommend the same set of advice to those looking to better their mental health.
Join a club, do group sports, meet with a friend for a simple lunch or go to the movies. Try to avoid heavy socialisation such as big parties.
Try to get some mild exercise into your daily routine. It doesn't have to be heavy weightlifting or even traditional exercise at all; going for a walk for just ten minutes a day will do.
The ideal amount of sleep for teenagers is between 8 and 10 hours. Adequate sleep is necessary especially on school nights to ensure unimpaired cognition.
Remember to take a step back from social media if you're feeling overwhelmed or unproductive. Instead, read a book or talk to family.