I was recently asked this question in an interview about mental health:
“Half of all young people in their 20s are labeled with (or label themselves with) a mental disorder (anxiety, depression, etc.). How did we get here? Are these diagnoses accurate?”
It was a great question, and I wonder about the answer to that question myself as a professional treating mental health conditions day-to-day. I don’t know if “half” our young people label themselves, but definitely more than in the past.
It has become common to see a young person in her twenties bounce in to clinic, plop down, and energetically report that she feels terrible. She says she is anxious. But she doesn’t look anxious. She says she is depressed. But she doesn’t look depressed. And while it is possible for someone to feel terrible and hide her feelings, I’m conducting a clinical examination as a trained physician specializing in mental health. Some of the young people coming in telling me they are in bad mental health shape appear mostly normal.
Sure, they have stress. They feel down. They get overwhelmed with some of the responsibilities of growing up. But if I compare the young people I’m seeing today to the ones I was seeing 15 years ago, the young adults today are coming with milder symptoms, and heightened concern about the symptoms they are experiencing.
So, how did we get here?
1. It may be a side effect of raising public awareness about mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. We have brought mental illness to the front of people’s minds. And we have inadvertently created a side effect of pathologizing some aspects of normal experience. Everybody has anxiety and sadness, and now by raising awareness, we have encouraged young impressionable people to believe their feelings are something abnormal- that worry and sadness are equivalent to clinical anxiety and depression.
2. The written criteria for mental disorders can be easily misused to label almost anyone with a mental disorder. Now that mental health criteria can be searched up online, it’s easy to see oneself in the list of experiences that add up to an illness.
3. Our kids are reaching adulthood without the kinds of life skills previous generations had. They have been overscheduled, overprotected, and had little time to make decisions on their own. When they arrive to adult roles, they may feel completely overwhelmed.
4. Substance abuse is soaring. Research shows that young people drink a lot. Cannabis use is extremely prevalent. Using substances may interfere with learning healthy coping skills.
5. Social media use has increased, and it may make us all miserable. A lot of studies support this idea.
These theories on how we got here point to some obvious solutions:
- Normalize the parts of the human experience that can be normalized, while still compassionately caring for the people suffering with mental illness.
- Leave the labeling to the experts, and train the experts to use the criteria correctly. Or in some cases, re-write the criteria to clearly exclude normal experiences.
- Teach kids adult skills so they feel ready for adulthood. Focus on skills for those who arrived to adulthood without them, and don’t encourage the idea that feeling overwhelmed by a lack of life skills is a mental disorder.
- Encourage miserable young people to try a period of full sobriety and a social media break to see if those changes make things better.
- Encourage exercise, healthy diet, mindfulness skills, spirituality, community, and healthy outlets.
- Feb 11, 2019 Steps to Getting Help for Someone You Love
- Feb 4, 2019 The Dying Art of Diagnosis: The Failure of the Magic Checklist in Psychiatry
- Jan 21, 2019 Courage
- Jan 14, 2019 Getting Back On The College Horse After Depression
- Jan 7, 2019 Resolving to Go Back
- Dec 17, 2018 Let’s Talk About Bipolar Disorder
- Dec 10, 2018 I Don’t Have to Teach My Daughter to Be Kind.
- Dec 3, 2018 It's Obvious When Others Need to Change, But Hard Changing Ourselves
- Nov 26, 2018 Grade Failures Roll in This Time of Year, and Parents Need to Get a Grip
- Nov 19, 2018 Planning Your Holiday: Which Is Preferable? Conflict or Loneliness?
- Nov 12, 2018 A Moment For #Mindfulness
- Nov 5, 2018 Burned Out, Exhausted Students Need Parent Support This Holiday
- Oct 29, 2018 “Us” and “Them” - Can We Talk Without Being Enemies?
- Oct 22, 2018 Start Your Week With #Mindfulness
- Oct 15, 2018 Doubting the Diagnosis
- Oct 8, 2018 Child Abuse Awareness Is Mental Health Awareness. Child Abuse Prevention Is Mental Health Prevention
- Oct 1, 2018 Your Joke About People Being "Triggered" Isn't Funny
- Sep 24, 2018 Screen Time Is Not As Relaxing As We Like To Think
- Sep 17, 2018 Myths Doctors (and Nurses) Still Believe About Suicide
- Sep 10, 2018 5 Things Every Child With A Depressed Parent Understands - by Guest Ally Golden
- Sep 3, 2018 GAPS in the Mental Health Care System
- Aug 27, 2018 Stop and Smell the Roses: Everyday Mindfulness
- Aug 13, 2018 Mean Behind a Screen
- Aug 6, 2018 Dissatisfied Customer: When You Take Your Loved One to a Mental Health Provider, You May Not Get What You Want
- Jul 23, 2018 9 Ways You Can Reduce Mental Health Stigma and Discrimination
- Jul 16, 2018 Substance Use and Mental Illness: The Chicken and the Egg?
- Jul 9, 2018 Summer Camp: A Little Independence Away from Over-Supervised Childhood
- Jul 2, 2018 It Seems Half Of Young People In Their 20’s Are Labeled With (Or Label Themselves With) A Mental Disorder. How Did We Get Here?
- Jun 25, 2018 Mental Health Symptoms May Spark from Neurobiology in The Brain, But That’s Never the Whole Story
- Jun 11, 2018 Responsible Reporting of Suicide Saves Lives
- May 28, 2018 #MemorialDay #ThankYou
- May 21, 2018 Growing Up in the Era of School Shootings
- May 14, 2018 A Mental Health Tragedy Unfolds and the System Doesn’t Have an Answer
- May 7, 2018 The Smartphones Have Taken Our Teens
- Apr 30, 2018 College Parenting on Summer Break
- Apr 23, 2018 Is It Useful To Ground A Twenty-Year-Old?
- Apr 16, 2018 The Questions Everybody Wants To Ask About My Urgent Care Clinic
- Apr 9, 2018 Q & A with Dr. D
- Apr 2, 2018 “Why Must My Daughter Go Against Everything I’ve Taught Her?”
- Mar 26, 2018 The Gut-Brain and Young Adult Depression
- Mar 5, 2018 Hiding Vulnerabilities and Imperfections
- Feb 26, 2018 Helping Someone Who Doesn’t Want Help
- Feb 19, 2018 Oh, the Things Teens Can Teach Us: Laughing at Trolls
- Feb 12, 2018 To the 21-Year-Old Living at Home with Controlling Parents
- Feb 5, 2018 Lies Your Chronic Illness Tells You
- Jan 28, 2018 “OMG, She Is So Bipolar!” There's a Better Way to Say It
- Jan 22, 2018 By Michelle Mata, Guest: The Journey to Recovery
- Jan 15, 2018 Advocacy, Integrity, and MLKDay on My Anniversary
- Jan 8, 2018 Lost at Sea: Mental Health Crisis in the Young Adult Years
- Jan 1, 2018 For a Happier 2018, Change Just One Thing: Your Expectations
- Dec 18, 2017 After Mental Health Crisis, Well-Being Is Possible Again, But It’s Probably Not Going To Come From A Prescription Pill
- Dec 11, 2017 When Our Kids Fail
- Dec 4, 2017 Cousins Getting Along in the Holidays-- 8 Reminders for Kids
- Nov 27, 2017 Mental Health in the Holidays
- Nov 20, 2017 This Thanksgiving, Be Mindful
- Nov 13, 2017 “He just stays up in his room watching Netflix. Is that depression?”
- Oct 30, 2017 #MentalHealthAwareness is Great, But Where’s the Help?
- Oct 23, 2017 9 Tough Conversations Parents Need to Initiate
- Oct 16, 2017 Have Parenting Practices Become “Too Good” for the Good of Our Kids?
- Oct 9, 2017 Why Meds Aren’t Enough
- Oct 2, 2017 3 Questions to Ask if Your Child Is Having a Rough Start This Semester
- Sep 25, 2017 Doctor, I Know You’re Rushed, But Patients Need Reassurance
- Sep 18, 2017 5 Reasons You Need Psychosocial Rehab After a Mental Health Crisis
- Sep 11, 2017 Is It Possible To Advocate For More Mental Healthcare And Less At The Same Time?
- Sep 4, 2017 8 Problems in Teens and Young Adults That Mimic a Mental Health Condition, But Aren’t
- Aug 28, 2017 Does Advice on “Finding Joy” Help or Harm People with Depression?
- Aug 21, 2017 Can the Solar Eclipse Bring Us Hope for Transformational Change?
- Aug 14, 2017 Families Belong on the #MentalHealthCare Treatment Team!
- Aug 7, 2017 Questions You May Have Always Wanted to Ask A Psychiatrist
- Jul 31, 2017 Grit and Mental Wellness
- Jul 24, 2017 12 Reasons Parents Are Worried About Their 20-Something Kids
- Jul 17, 2017 8 Things Every 20 Year Old Needs to Know
- Jul 10, 2017 8 Things Teens Need to Learn by 16/Driving Age
- Jul 3, 2017 8 Things Kids Need to Master By Age 13
- Jun 12, 2017 Parents: Start Off Summer Right (And Then Relax)
- May 29, 2017 Get Some Memorial Day Quiet Time
- May 22, 2017 Adult-Child Returning Home This Summer? Make Sure You Have a Plan
- May 15, 2017 #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth
- May 8, 2017 The Month of May is Stressful. 12 Ways to Cope:
- May 1, 2017 Adolescence: A Built in Second Chance for the Brain
- Apr 24, 2017 Why I Want to Hear From Your Mom
- Apr 17, 2017 Cyberbullying: Not Your Dad’s Schoolyard Fisticuffs
- Apr 10, 2017 The Secrets Inside Someone Else’s House
- Mar 27, 2017 Yes, Antidepressants Work Differently in Teen Brains
- Mar 20, 2017 Casting Light
- Mar 13, 2017 Gratitude
- Mar 6, 2017 FAQ’s: Mental Health Urgent Care
- Feb 27, 2017 10 Reasons to Stay Out of the Psychiatrist’s Office
- Feb 20, 2017 When Mom or Dad Has a Mental Illness
- Feb 13, 2017 When An Adult Child is Diagnosed With Mental Illness: A Parent’s Role
- Feb 6, 2017 Depression is Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual
- Jan 30, 2017 Teens in High School, and Keeping It Together, Mama
- Jan 23, 2017 What Do We Believe About Each Other?
- Jan 16, 2017 “Hey, Doc! You Support My Stance on Marijuana, Don’t You?”
- Jan 9, 2017 An Expert in Teen Mental Health (Until I Walk In the Door At Home)
- Jan 2, 2017 I’m So Depressed (No, You’re Not.)
- Dec 19, 2016 Stigma Within the Healthcare System
- Dec 12, 2016 Today My Son Stood Up
- Dec 12, 2016 Cracks in the Dam of Mental Health Care
- Dec 5, 2016 Stepping in When Your Teen is Cyberbullied