Why Are Teen Anxiety and Depression Rates Growing?
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
My catalyst conference project dives deep into the struggles of teens with anxiety and depression. I didn’t want to just read about teen mental health; I wanted to dive deep into the problems with stigma and the way we talk about teen anxiety. I have many personal connections to this topic through family, friends, and myself. I want to both educate myself and others in the process.
Quite frankly, we are in the midst of a teen mental health crisis. High school and college stress are teaming up to take down every last one of us. We spend hours on social media, losing our connections to each other. We are so busy with work that we forget to take down time to revive ourselves. We just get worse and worse.
I wanted to know if teens were actually getting worse, or if the world was getting more aware. My conclusion? A little bit of both. I think that one of the biggest problems with teen mental health is the generation gap. After speaking with many students (more than I interviewed) I learned that there are some students whose parents don’t quite believe in depression (anxiety, OCD, etc.). I learned that adults see social media as the cause of most of our struggles, while the reality is there is far more going on.
For my project, I sent a survey to my school’s student body. My survey was sent out at the beginning of May. I received an overwhelming amount of data. I also did some outside research to compare statistics. Here are statistics and summaries of what I learned.
- 41% of students at my school suffer from anxiety and/or depression (45% have some type of mental disorder). This means that around 200 students in my school suffer from a mental disorder. After doing some further research, I learned that High Achieving Schools (HAS) have significantly higher anxiety and depression rates than the national average.
- Only 15.08% of students know more than 16 students who suffer from a anxiety or depression. Most students know 1-5 other students with anxiety or depression.
- 40% of students have seen a therapist (outside of school) at some point. 24% see a therapist regularly or occasionally. This means that some students aren’t getting help for their mental disorders.
- It is more likely for a freshman to struggle with just anxiety than anything else. Upperclassmen are more likely to have depression and anxiety (or other mental health struggles).
- The survey results showed that there are a few people who suffer from mental illness but don’t know anyone else in the school with a mental illness. This is a testament to how alone those people may feel.
- The statistics also showed that people who suffer from a mental disorder are more likely to know others who suffer from a mental disorder. This could be either because people want to talk with others who can empathize or because people are worried about judgement or misunderstandings.
I think that from this survey, I have a much larger knowledge of what I can do within my school to help. I also received an overwhelming amount of comments (I added a comment section to the survey), and that helped me learn even more about the student body. People are so willing to share their honest opinion when it’s anonymous.
Also for my project, I conducted 12 interviews — 7 interviews were with students, 4 were with teachers/adults in the community, 1 was with a mental health professional. I asked some of the same questions: what are the factors you think cause mental disorders in teens? Why do think rates are growing? What kind of stigma do you witness on a daily basis? What do you think can be done? And, I got drastically different answers. I wrote up summaries of each interview, but there was an overwhelming amount of information. Here are some of the most important things that I learned.
My professional interview was with a resident in psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
Overall, teen anxiety and depression are tricky problems. There is evidence that shows increased mental disorder and suicide rates. There are a wealth of theories about why. Overall, we are getting better about talking about mental health and picking up on symptoms. This raises questions about if more people are developing mental disorders or are more people recognizing symptoms. There is the theory that rates themselves are increasing because there are more cases of depression and anxiety. The increasing suicide rate does agree with this theory. There are many possibilities of what factors are creating higher rates. Many think that social media and technology are big influences on mental health. Others think that the levels of high school and college stress are going up. For teens specifically, being in an age where they are becoming new people, reaching adulthood, and establishing themselves can easily cause stress. Having to ‘figure out life’ is a very real challenge. Struggles with parental expectations and self-image factor into the mental health puzzle.
My faculty interviews were with some teachers, deans, and college counselors. I wanted to make sure I got a variety of information.
The one thing that I noticed was that adults are far more in tune with the effects of social media than kids. The two teachers who I interviewed spent a lot of time talking about technology. They weren’t blaming kids for being addicted to phones, but they were talking about how technology as a whole is affecting the general population. We also had conversations about how people were socializing less because they have phones and other devices to entertain themselves with instead. Another important topic that I discussed was school stress. I think that the certain teachers were far more aware of this issue than others. I think that it can be challenging sometimes for adults to see how stress is affecting kids because it can be so subtle at first, especially for teachers. When a teacher sees hundreds of stressed kids every day, it normalizes the way they are feeling. Some of the faculty members actually suggested re-educated teachers on mental health. This started some conversations about deep misconceptions surrounding mental health.
My student interviews were with kids from different grades and both kids who suffer from a mental disorder and some who don’t.
I think that students understand more about what is going on then faculty do because kids are more willing to talk to other kids. A huge portion of my time with students was spent talking about what the challenges are in the school for kids with problems, even minor ones. I asked every student if they’d seen the school psychologist and if they would be willing to go. Most said that they hadn’t and that they would definitely go to other faculty members first. I think this ties into the worry about having people see you meet with the psychologist. Kids are so worried about what others think that they wouldn’t go get help because it might affect their social life. I also realized that a lot of students don’t even know that much about how our school deals with mental illness. Most of the students expressed major concerns about being open with their mental health because of how it could influence their academics. Also, most of the kids seemed tired of talking about issues like this without anything happening. There was a lot of complaining about how little is done to support students. Although, there might be more than students are aware of, this goes to show that kids don’t know where to find that help.
Overall, stigma is probably one of the most relevant topics when it comes to helping teens with mental struggles. Social pressure is magnified as a teenager, and people are always worried about what others think. Mental health can feel like a secretive topic. People are always nervous about how open they can be about it, especially as a teenager. Teens need to earn teacher’s trust and prove themselves as students. When teens are dealing with mental health, it can feel impossible to get work done. Information about mental health is often kept in the shadows, and the common knowledge about mental disorders can often be wrong.
“I don’t think it’s just a ‘side effect of those smartphones’. I think it’s a real problem brought about by the increase of difficulty in the college process and the pressure to be successful at constant war with the teenage need to be social.”
“Sometimes I get the impression that my peers are eager to self-diagnose themselves with mental health problems, detracting from the very real situation.”
“The biggest problem with anxiety and depression and stress is the fact that it is over-normalized. Honestly, nearly everyone here has some [type] of a problem from the sheer stress of the workload and life at [our school]… People will brag about getting less than 4 hours of sleep, or how much homework they have, or how much they hate everything and want to die, but they don’t even see it as a problem.”
“I hadn’t even realized how much anxiety I have on a daily basis until a few months ago. I feel like this problem is not addressed enough in schools and that teachers and other adults should be aware of this issue, and we as a community should raise awareness for mental health.”
“I think that [this] generation is on the brink of a serious mental health crisis. I think the country in general is on the brink of a serious mental health crisis.”
“Social media doesn’t cause someone to be depressed, but it can exacerbate something that is already there.”
“Grades and the admission process are toxic.”
What Can We Do?
Okay, so now you want to know what can you do to help? First, educate yourself. While doing research, I’ve learned that people often make the mistake of reading a lot of medical, formal articles. Go find articles written by people suffering from depression. Go find videos made by them. Connect yourself in a way that you can’t with an article about just symptoms. Learn how people feel about their mental disorders. Learn how people feel about stigma. Yes, it might take some time, but you’ve already made the biggest step. Now, think about what you can do in your community. Start conversations about what needs fixing. Don’t stop those conversations until you’ve made a difference.
After the overwhelming amount of information that I received from my survey and interviews, I decided to begin some conversations with administration and leaders in my school community. I was very concerned about the way that we think about mental health in my school community. First of all, I want to talk about some minor changes in my school that can help the student body overall — providing information about our school psychologist, educating faculty better, bringing in a speaker. I also want to work to make a difference with the stigma as a whole. Our school could use a boost. This year, we have implemented a diversity initiative to raise awareness in our community. I want to do the same thing with mental health.
Here are some resources if you want to do further research:
Anonymous Female, 15. Interview. 12 Apr. 2018.
Anonymous Female, 17. Interview. 12 Apr. 2018.
Anonymous Female, 17. Interview. 13 Apr. 2018.
Anonymous Female Adult. Interview. 13 Apr 2018.
Anonymous Female Adult. Interview. 13 Apr 2018.
Anonymous Female Adult. Interview. 13 Apr 2018.
Anonymous Male, 17. Interview. 12 Apr. 2018.
Anonymous Male, 18. Interview. 12 Apr. 2018.
Anonymous Male, 37. Interview. 12 Apr. 2018.
“I’m Fine – Teen Depression PSA.” YouTube, uploaded by Sydney Carson, 17 Jan.
2017, youtube.com. Accessed 15 Apr. 2018.
Morris, Ned. Interview. 5 Feb. 2018.
“Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness so Students Get the Help They Need.” Teach for America, Americorps, 20 May 2013, www.teachforamerica.org. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.
Schrobsdorff, Susanna. “Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright.” Time, 27 Oct. 2016, time.com. Accessed 13 Apr. 2018.