By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new study has confirmed what high school and college counselors have long suspected – high school and college students suffering with mental health issues are at record levels.
According to a report by The Associated Press (AP), the new study comes from Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor and the project’s lead author. Twenge and researchers at five universities analyzed the responses of more than 77,000 high school or college students who responded to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory from 1938 through 2007.
Overall, an average of five times as many students in 2007 surpassed thresholds in one or more mental health categories, compared with those who did so in 1938, with six times as many scoring high in two particular areas:
— “hypomania,” a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism (from five percent of students in 1938 to 31 percent in 2007)
— and depression (from one percent to six percent).
What’s causing these much higher rates of depression and anxiety among young people who are living in the most opulent and technologically advanced country in the world?
Twenge’s data showed an increase in materialism and divorce rates, which could be contributing to the higher numbers. She also agrees with many mental health professionals who believe a shift in focus in the popular culture to externals such as wealth, looks, and status could also be to blame. Another factor may be a growing belief among young people that it is essential or at least “very important” to be rich which not only increases their stress levels but invites disappointment when their high expectations are not realized.
Students themselves point to the pressure to succeed and the fast pace of the world as being to blame.
Sarah Ann Slater, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Miami, told the AP that she feels pressure to be financially successful, even when she doesn’t want to.
“The unrealistic feelings that are ingrained in us from a young age — that we need to have massive amounts of money to be considered a success — not only lead us to a higher likelihood of feeling inadequate, anxious or depressed, but also make us think that the only value in getting an education is to make a lot of money, which is the wrong way to look at it,”
Unfortunately, Twenge’s research suggests that too many students are looking at life this way – and paying a high price.
“It’s another piece of the puzzle — that yes, this does seem to be a problem, that there are more young people who report anxiety and depression,” she said. “The next question is: what do we do about it?”
Twenge’s research will be published in a future issue of the Clinical Psychology Review.