Negative mental health issues are extremely prevalent in young people, and this can be troubling to many. Though these issues have worsened during three years of a global pandemic, this isn’t the only cause. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness have been increasing in high schoolers and young adults for more than a decade. There are several reasons why these groups are at risk for negative mental health.
When looking at the negative trends of mental health in teens and young adults, most people notice that phone and social media usage also increases. While social media can connect peers with others like them and introduce them to more of the world around them, it also can have very harmful effects on some teenagers.
Social media introduces a place where developing teens can compare themselves to people their age — but they are peers who often only share their idealized selves. This leads to teens developing unhealthy expectations.
Social media also ties teenagers’ sense of self-worth to likes, comments, and other interactions between users. When they do not see these interactions or when those interactions are negative, it has a harmful effect. The ability to be anonymous online has also made hateful cyberbullying much easier.
However, negative mental health can be tied to smartphones in general, and peers on social media are not the only culprit. Kids today have easier access to more information than ever before, too.
The News Cycle
News is readily available through our phones, including through social media. Even if the world we live in hasn’t gotten more stressful, a teenager’s perception of it has. Important but upsetting topics like gun violence, sexual harassment, climate change, and immigration are adding stress to teenagers and young adults. The news cycle is often primarily negative, and it’s distributed through social media in condensed and sensationalized ways.
Advertisements are almost inescapable in our current landscape. They are on TV, social media, streaming platforms, billboards, magazines, and online articles.
While in other countries, advertising to children is forbidden or limited, advertising to young and impressionable children in the U.S. is considered ideal by corporations. The sooner kids see advertisements for products, the more likely they will establish a brand name preference.
The purpose of advertisements is to present an ideal world that is often unattainable and can negatively impact our perceptions of the world and ourselves. Children 8 years old and younger are cognitively defenseless against advertising, and teenagers and young adults are also very susceptible to marketing.
Advertisements are created to make money off of teenagers and children and can often advertise unhealthy things like drugs and alcohol. Sex is also used to sell many types of products, which many consider inappropriate for young audiences. The unhealthy body images of women in these advertisements can also negatively affect young girls’ perception of themselves and even lead to eating disorders.
Despite it not being the only cause of the worsening health of young adults and teens, COVID-19 has led to a significant increase in negative mental health. The pandemic has lessened the social support systems because of school closures, largely online gatherings and connections, and generally forced isolation. It is also an undeniably terrifying event that has caused intense stress and anxiety in many teens.
Beyond the social impact of the pandemic, the disease itself has had a terrible effect. Many people have lost loved ones, friends, and caretakers. There is also some evidence that COVID-19 infection can lead to an increase in mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It is a reality that we are still dealing with.
These are not the only stressors impacting young adults and teens, but they are some of the biggest causes of the mental health crisis that we are currently facing.
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