Californians ages 18-24 are experiencing more anxiety and depression compared to past years. That’s the result of a new survey from the California Endowment, which posed questions to 800 young adults in September. Many of them are struggling to get help due to financial costs or a lack of access to services.
Only about 41% of young Californians rated their mental health as good or excellent. And at least two-thirds reported feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, excessively worried, or unfocused. Almost a third said they had experienced suicidal thoughts. That’s all according to David Metz, a pollster at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates (FM3 Research), a firm that conducted the survey for the California Endowment.
He says differences among gender groups were noticeable too. “Fair or poor” mental health was reported by 64% of women vs. 47% of men, and 77% of LGBTQ people vs. 49% of hetereosexual people.
When it comes to social media and mental health, a negative association exists, with only 22% of respondents saying social platforms have a positive impact on them, Metz notes.
Kent Toussaint, a therapist and the founder of the Teen Therapy Center, says you can’t escape the social platforms now. “When we were kids, we would go home and whatever bullying or teasing was going on, it wasn't there at our house. But now we're online, it's always there. And it may not be direct bullying or teasing; could just be being left out. You're on Snapchat, and you see your friends are over at the Calabasas Commons, but somehow they never reached out to you and invited you. So it can be excruciating from overt bullying to just passive isolation.”
Toussaint adds that video games and the internet distract young people and don’t allow them to fully experience the world.
“That's what I think leads to a lot of anxiety and depression, because they're not getting out and living the world. They have no sense of autonomy, mastery, or purpose because they're distracted by everything that's on a screen. And by the time kids get to 18, 20, 22, they're not used to putting themselves out there to take risks in the social world. So their anxiety and depression just gets overwhelming.”
But the biggest sources of anxiety and depression are politics and current events, with almost half of young adults saying they have a negative impact on their mental health, Metz points out.
How to address these problems? Make mental health care affordable, enable young adults to find therapists they can relate to, and encourage young people to make use of those resources, Toussaint says.
“We had solid majorities who told us they were worried they wouldn't be taken seriously. They felt like mental health care was for people with more serious problems than the one that they're confronting. They were worried about finding a provider who would understand their own background or experience.”
Toussaint emphasizes that it's important to address issues earlier rather than later, and young people should directly face what they’re experiencing, without fear of judgment or stigma.
“There's no issue that's going to seem too trivial — because most likely it is going to be a deeper issue than one realizes. … In our experience … young adults come in and they're hesitant or cautious. Once they start connecting with a therapist, they find that it's rewarding. It's helpful. It's safe. Everything they say is confidential. So hopefully, if they do give it that shot, they can find their own sense of strength to overcome the issues they're dealing with. And eventually, hopefully pay it forward to someone else and it’ll take the stigma away.”