Increased Prevalence Of Anxiety And Depression In Young People

  • Emily Ryan Master's degree, Genomic Medicine, University of Exeter
  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

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Introduction

The rising rates of anxiety and depression among young people today are concerning. However, there is no need to feel overwhelmed. Let us dive into what causes this trend and figure out how we can work together to find solutions.

Anxiety and depression are becoming increasingly common among young people, due to pressures from society, school, and technology. These challenges deeply affect happiness, schoolwork, and friendships. But don't worry, we will explore why this happens and what we can do about it. Stay tuned for helpful tips and solutions to support young people in their mental health journey. Definition of anxiety and depression.

Although fear and anxiety can be normal, anxiety disorder involves more than temporary fear. Anxiety disorder may cause physical changes such as increased blood pressure.1 The American Psychological Association explains the difference between fear and anxiety, which can be easily confused—anxiety is worrying about what could happen in the future, while fear is a reaction to something happening right now. Imagine anxiety as a broad, uncertain concern, and fear as a quick response to a specific situation.

On the other hand, depression is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a significant mood disorder that many people may face.3 Depression can profoundly affect how you feel, think, and manage your everyday life, such as sleeping, eating, or working. Doctors usually diagnose depression when symptoms persist for at least two weeks.

Overview of the increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression in young people

According to the World Health Organisation, around one in seven young people aged 10 to 19 battle a mental health issue.4 This accounts for 13% of all health challenges in this age group.4 Depression, anxiety, and behavioural problems rank highly among the reasons for their struggles. Shockingly, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. Neglecting mental health concerns can impact both physical and mental well-being in adulthood, hindering the ability to lead satisfying lives.

Factors contributing to increased prevalence

Societal pressures and expectations

Young people today are dealing with more stress despite their lives seeming easier than before. The time between childhood and becoming an adult is now longer and more confusing, lasting up to 15 years.5 During this time, young people must navigate school, jobs, living arrangements, and relationships. As life gets better in some ways, it also gets more complicated, making it harder for young people to feel okay mentally and socially.

Academic stress and performance anxiety

University-related stress, especially in medical and nursing fields, can lead to anxiety and depression among students due to high workloads and practical components, like fieldwork. Some students may not fully understand the demands of their studies until they begin, causing feelings of disillusionment. International students may initially face higher anxiety levels but adjust over time. Anxiety and depression can change as students go through university, from adjusting to new routines to worrying about what comes after graduation. Poor academic performance can worsen mental health, creating a cycle of stress and low grades. On the flip side, students who work part-time tend to have better mental health because they feel more financially secure and emotionally stable. However, too much work and how well they get along with teachers can still cause stress and anxiety.5

Influence of social media and technology

Social media and digital technology have changed how we connect, but they also bring new problems. Seeing perfect lives online, cyberbullying, and pressure to look perfect can induce feelings of low self-worth and increase anxiety and depression. Recent research6 explored how social media use is connected to feeling sad, worried, or stressed, taking into account time spent on social media, what you do, how much you care, and addiction. Though these factors have been linked to mental health problems, these relationships are complex and a more in-depth understanding is crucial.

Economic uncertainty and job market challenges

Young adults today deal with tough economic issues like high unemployment rates, student debt, and housing problems. Unstable jobs mostly harm mental health by affecting time management, relationships, purpose, and self image, which are all tied to mental well-being. Plus, insecure jobs don't give the financial perks of work, increasing mental health risks.7

Family dynamics and relationship issues

Family dynamics, including parental expectations, parental divorce status, whether parents argue a lot, or if they don't pay enough attention, can really affect how children feel.8 If families aren't working well or if children don't feel close to their family members, they might feel insecure, lonely, or have low self-worth. This can make children and young people more likely to feel anxious or sad.

Impact on young people

Anxiety and depression affect both mental and physical health. Physical effects include a weakened immune system, disrupted sleep, and increased risk of various diseases.9 Anxiety and depression can make it hard to focus in school and do well in classes, causing students’ attendance to drop and struggles with learning. Anxiety and depression can also make it tough to get along with and talk to others,, inducing feelings of loneliness. These problems can stick around for a long time, affecting relationships, personal growth, and employment. Overall, this affects how happy the child or young person feels in life.

Identifying symptoms and risk factors

Identifying signs of anxiety and depression in young people is crucial for getting help early.10 Feeling persistently sad, changes in sleep or eating habits, withdrawing from usual activities, or having thoughts of self-harm are all signs of anxiety and/or depression. Anxiety and depression can be caused by external factors such as stress, bad experiences, and feeling pressure from others, as well as biological factors such as how our bodies work and our genes. LGBTQ+ youth or young people from minority groups are more susceptible to anxiety and depression because they face discrimination and are less likely to seek the support they need.10 It's important to provide care that is understanding and respectful of their unique needs.

Prevention and intervention strategies

  • Promoting mental health awareness and removing stigma— talking openly about mental health, sharing personal experiences, and educating others about available resources.
  • Implementing school-based mental health programs11 incorporating mental health education into the curriculum, providing access to counselling services on campus, and training staff to recognize and support students in distress.
  • Providing access to counseling and therapy services— provide a safe space to talk about their feelings, receive support from trained professionals, and learn coping skills to manage stress and anxiety. 
  • Encouraging healthy coping mechanisms and self-care practices—activities like exercise, mindfulness, journaling, and spending time with loved ones, can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
  • Supporting family involvement and community resources— offering support groups, workshops, and family therapy sessions to strengthen relationships, improve communication, and provide additional support for individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Summary

It is vital to recognise signs of anxiety and depression in young people early on. Anxiety and depression in young people impact not just how they feel, but also their physical health, school performance, and relationships. Teachers, doctors, leaders, and communities need to make young people's mental health a top priority by implementing programs in schools, improving the accessibility of services, and increasing mental health awareness. In the future, we should study more about what makes young people feel anxious or sad, like social media or family issues, and find ways to provide help earlier. We need to make sure that the help we offer is inclusive and respectful, and gets everyone involved in improving outcomes for young people today.

FAQs

  1. Why are more young people experiencing anxiety and depression nowadays?
    • Today's young people deal with a lot of things that stress them out, like school pressures, social media, financial worries, and changing family dynamics. This can make young people feel overwhelmed and upset, making them more likely to feel anxious or sad. 
  2. How can I tell if what I'm feeling is just typical teenage stress, or something more serious like anxiety or depression?
    • It's normal to experience occasional stress or sadness, but if these feelings persist for an extended period, interfere with daily functioning, or cause significant distress, it may be a sign of anxiety or depression. Reach out to a trusted adult or mental health professional for support and guidance.
  3. What impact can anxiety and depression have on my life as a young person?
    • Feeling anxious or sad can interfere with various aspects of your life, like how you do in school, how you get along with people, how healthy you are, and how good you feel overall. Seeking help early can prevent these issues from escalating and improve your quality of life.
  4. How can I cope with anxiety and depression as a young person?
    • Practice self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, and spending time with supportive friends and family. It's also essential to seek professional help through therapy or counselling and learn healthy coping strategies to manage your symptoms effectively.
  5. What can schools and communities do to support young people struggling with anxiety and depression?
    • Schools can help young people by teaching about mental health, having counsellors available, and making it easy to talk about feelings. Communities can also do their part by giving young people places to go for help, such as support groups, hotlines, and online forums.

References 

  1. Anxiety Disorders - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 5]. Available from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders.
  2. Anxiety. https://www.apa.org [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 5]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety
  3. Depression - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 5]. Available from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  4. Mental health of adolescents [Internet]. [cited 2024 May 5]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health
  5. Mofatteh M. Risk factors associated with stress, anxiety, and depression among university undergraduate students. AIMS Public Health [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 May 9]; 8(1):36–65. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7870388/.
  6. Keles B, McCrae N, Grealish A. A systematic review: the influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2024 May 9]; 25(1):79–93. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02673843.2019.1590851.
  7. Irvine A, Rose N. How Does Precarious Employment Affect Mental Health? A Scoping Review and Thematic Synthesis of Qualitative Evidence from Western Economies. Work, Employment and Society [Internet]. 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]; 38(2):418–41. Available from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/09500170221128698
  8. Weich S, Patterson J, Shaw R, Stewart-Brown S. Family relationships in childhood and common psychiatric disorders in later life: systematic review of prospective studies. The British Journal of Psychiatry [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2024 May 10]; 194(5):392–8. Available from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/family-relationships-in-childhood-and-common-psychiatric-disorders-in-later-life-systematic-review-of-prospective-studies/2F77980512E8E8571D3B19008B6E62E3
  9. Jenkins PE, Ducker I, Gooding R, James M, Rutter-Eley E. Anxiety and depression in a sample of UK college students: a study of prevalence, comorbidity, and quality of life. Journal of American College Health [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 May 10]; 69(8):813–9. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07448481.2019.1709474
  10. McDermott E, Eastham R, Hughes E, Johnson K, Davis S, Pryjmachuk S, Mateus C, McNulty F, Jenzen O. "What Works" to Support LGBTQ+ Young People's Mental Health: An Intersectional Youth Rights Approach. Int J Soc Determinants Health Health Serv. 2024 Apr;54(2):108-120. doi: 10.1177/27551938241230766. Epub 2024 Feb 22. PMID: 38385356; PMCID: PMC10955791. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10955791/#:~:text=There%20is%20now%20substantial%20international,than%20cisgender%20and%20heterosexual%20youth.
  11. Caldwell DM, Davies SR, Thorn JC, Palmer JC, Caro P, Hetrick SE, et al. School-based interventions to prevent anxiety, depression and conduct disorder in children and young people: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Public Health Research [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 May 10]; 9(8):1–284. Available from: https://www.journalslibrary.nihr.ac.uk/phr/phr09080/.

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Menessa Sereng Mundu

Master of Science - MS, Neuroscience, King's College London

Menessa Mundu is a dedicated writer with a strong background in neuroscience and life sciences. Holding a Master's degree in Neuroscience from King’s College London, she has developed a deep understanding of scientific concepts and a passion for communicating complex information in an accessible way. Menessa has contributed to various healthcare and scientific publications, where her work focuses on improving patient outcomes and raising awareness about critical health issues. Her expertise in scientific writing, combined with her commitment to making healthcare information clear and engaging, is evident in her work.

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