In recent years, there has been a concerning surge in youth mental health challenges and it is here to stay. Academic pressures, increasing work demands, and the omnipresence of social media have compounded the stressors they face. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, global conflicts like the war in Ukraine, and the constant barrage of information on social media have further exacerbated their mental burdens.
Mental Landmines: Youth Struggle with Academic Stress and Work Pressure
For many young individuals, school and the demands of a burgeoning career are becoming the primary sources of stress. Academic pressure, exam stress, career choices, and job searches represent significant challenges. These pressures are not isolated but occur in a broader context of increasing work intensity, a result of digitalization transforming the workplace. According to Gallup’s State of the Workplace Report 2023, employee stress remained at a record high after it had been rising for over a decade, contributing to emotional exhaustion. Young workers, in particular, find themselves in a vulnerable position as they grapple with these changes.
Social Media’s Toll on Youth Mental Health
Additionally, young people are navigating the digital age, where crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and global conflicts are ever-present on social media. The platforms they frequently use expose them to unfiltered and unverified news and information, leading to sensory overload, questionable self-diagnosis trends, and fear of missing out (FoMO). They get the impression that the world is brutal and no one teaches them to deal with it.
Young people encounter countless lifestyles and role models, which can be both enlightening and bewildering. While social media can be a source of inspiration and connection, it can also negatively impact self-esteem. Advice on eating habits, certain beauty ideals, or problematic role models can contribute to feelings of inadequacy.
As an example, hospitalization rates for self-harm in teens have increased by 140% since 2010, coinciding with their increased use of smartphones and social media.
Preventing the Plunge: Arm Youth with Mental Resilience
To combat these mental health challenges, it is crucial to promote specific skills in childhood that help prevent mental disorders in adolescence. Instilling self-efficacy from an early age, supporting the development of problem-solving skills, teaching how to express and deal with difficult emotions, and showcasing the importance of setting boundaries are essential. Prevention approaches aimed at strengthening these protective factors require collaboration among different stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, teachers, parents, peers, and creators of tech solutions.
Time Bombs: The Urgent Need for Early Action
Despite preventive measures, stress and mental health problems can still happen anytime and anywhere. Shockingly, the American Psychiatric Association reports that 50% of mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% begin by age 24. This means that most mental issues begin in adolescence and are often recognized late resulting in a significant gap between the first signs of illness, diagnosis, and the start of therapy. It is easy for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions to go unnoticed or unaddressed. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly two-thirds of people with known mental disorders never seek help from a health professional.
These circumstances lead to significant gaps that can reinforce unhealthy behavioral patterns, leading to further disorders and an increased disease burden.
Closing Youth Mental Health Gaps
Even when young people recognize their mental health issues and seek help, they often face lengthy waits for psychiatric or psychotherapeutic treatment due to an overburdened healthcare system. However, there are effective low-threshold support services available. Identifying which services are particularly effective, and increasing awareness among the target group are essential steps. Low-threshold services, such as peer-supported counseling or digital selfcare solutions, can help bridge the gap while waiting for specialized treatment. Ensuring equitable access to these services is paramount because many individuals with mental health problems cannot afford self-payment.
Data Collection and Youth Participation Are Key
Despite some studies on the subject, there remains a significant data gap in understanding the mental health of young people. Continuous monitoring and data collection are essential to evaluate trends over time, identify correlations, add context, and create highly personalized interventions.
Quantitatively measuring uncontrollable and controllable factors such as environmental data, sleep patterns, movement, work intensity, social media consumption, stress, anxiety and mood levels, etc. can provide objective and actionable insights into their relationship with mental health.
That’s exactly what we do at Earkick. And we do it in close collaboration with our target group, students and young adults.
Establishing a New Normal
Engaging with young people in the development of solutions that are aimed at them is essential. Youth participation should not be an occasional event but the new normal. However, this requires systematic efforts and resources. If we as a society truly want to address the mental health challenges facing our young people, we must ensure that their voices are heard and understood.
Let’s work towards understanding and addressing the rising mental health challenges among young people is a multifaceted endeavor involving prevention, early intervention, destigmatization, improving access to support services, data collection, and most importantly, the active participation of young people themselves.
By working together on all these fronts, we can hope to alleviate the mental burdens that weigh heavily on the shoulders of the next generation.
Ready to join the movement and become part of the change the world needs right now?
Get in touch.