The Decline of Adolescent Mental Health

Aislinn O'Reilly, Reporter

With 20% of teenagers dealing with a diagnosable mental health disorder, suicide is becoming the third highest cause of death in adolescents. Between five hundred thousand and one million young people attempted suicide in each of the recent years ( Teen mental health is on a rapid decline. Many teenagers worldwide are experiencing some form of a mental disorder, but only about 30% of these struggling teens are receiving the help that they need. Many causes of depression such as traumatic experiences, a poor family situation, divorce, and family deaths have been around for ages, but this generation is experiencing brand new causes of depression. This generation of teens is being raised with unrealistic standards from their parents and from messages in media. In addition, anxiety levels are rising. A majority of teens experience anxiety from the extreme load of schoolwork they are receiving, as well as a new fear of disasters, such as school shootings and acts of terrorism. Many students such as Mckayla Nichols believe that students feel a lot of pressure from “school mostly, and school work and homework.” Both teens and adults are struggling to understand and cope with the terrifying new wave of depression and anxiety. Understanding where these disorders are coming from is a crucial step in students finding help and in parents understanding how to support their children in these hard times.

Anxiety is a topic that every teen has struggled with from time to time. Most of the teens that are battling anxiety may not realize that they could have an anxiety disorder. Telling the difference between occasional anxiety feelings and an anxiety disorder can be tricky. Experiencing anxiety can be normal in stressful situations such as taking a test or giving a presentation. An indicator of a true anxiety disorder is when excessive feelings consume all thoughts and become an interference in daily life.

Peer pressure has been a frequent cause of anxiety, but now social media is providing more and more opportunities for peer pressure to happen. Social media is a new concept which allows people to share details of their daily lives. It also allows people to compare themselves to others and set unrealistic standards. Sophia Lawson, a senior in high school believes that social media promotes “…influences of drugs and alcohol.” When teens see images of people such as friends and idols participating in risky behaviors, they see themselves as if they are missing out or left out. People can also reach out and shame others for not participating in these behaviors.

Peer pressure is a main cause of anxiety, and social media is only providing a platform for this to occur. Not only does social media promote peer pressure, but it has created a culture of fake reality and comparison. School counselor Allison Hughes was willing to share how she has seen social media create stress, “[On social media] we put our best face forward… but that’s not reality. And so, people aren’t necessarily going to post when they fail a test or have a bad day. But everyone does that. So, we’re in this culture of wanting to be best and wanting to show that we’re having a good day and everything’s perfect when that’s not reality.” Hughes continues to explain the damage that comparison on social media can cause. “…I think people forget that and they’re comparing themselves to these people online, so then they get stressed about not being that and get anxious about not doing as well as someone else.” Social media has created a culture of comparison and always wanting to be the best version of oneself, which has created a new type of anxiety among teens.

Pressure at school is a major source of anxiety and depression. states that teachers assign an average of three and a half hours of homework per day, which is an overwhelming amount. Adding three and a half hours to the six and a half hour school days creates a severe amount of stress, and students may feel depressed when they don’t have enough time to participate in activities and hobbies due to homework.

In addition to school work and class work, students have to prepare for Smarter Balance testing, PSAT, SAT, and finals. Teachers agree that the amount of testing required to graduate is not necessary. Miss Cardinal, a physical education and fitness teacher, believes that “Testing is a lot of additional pressure on kids where I can see the necessity of it, but i don’t believe in as much testing as what our state is mandating for kids. Cardinal believes that testing at a young age can create a lot of damage, “…from the start when they’re young, and they’re starting out and they’re taking these tests at such a young age and putting such high stakes and high pressure on kids at such a young age.” School is adding so much unnecessary stress to adolescents, which is causing their mental state to decline. School provides an amount of healthy stress to growing adolescents, but the massive load of testing and school work is adding a dangerously high level of unhealthy stress. Depression, stress, and anxiety is linked to a number of causes, but school and social media are two of the most widespread causes among this generation.

Treatment for mental disorders among teens is available, but according to, only a small amount of people in need of treatment receive it.  Some families can’t afford medication and therapy, others believe it is unnecessary. Most families don’t know that their children are struggling mentally, which allows these teens to go untreated. Olivia Rusdal, a registered nurse states that most people are hesitant to be treated because “depression and anxiety in our society right now are often seen as ‘a choice’ or ‘fake’ or simply something that the person can just decide to change.” Rusdal believes that people with mental illnesses are afraid of being criticized, “Because of this people may be hesitant to admit they are having a problem with the fear they might be criticized for it or told their feelings aren’t real… [Depression and anxiety] is very confusing for some people and they may avoid getting help because they don’t want to admit they need it.” People are only worsening their conditions by refusing treatment or ignoring the fact that they are in need of help. Treatment for any mental condition can be a major help in teens that are going through tough times and should be taken seriously.

There are many free options for adolescents and adults in need of help. School counselors are a way to express feelings to a trusted adult. For children who don’t want face to face conversation, call and text hotlines for depression, suicidal thoughts, crisis such as abuse or homelessness are an easily accessible resource for help. There are even apps where people of all ages can talk anonymously to a professional counselor. There is a wide range of free counseling options for teens and adults who are unable to receive the care that they need, whether individuals are not financially able to receive treatment, or feeling too embarrassed to admit that they need help.

Conclusively, this generation’s mental health is rapidly getting worse and will only continue to get worse due to the conditions of school, peer pressure, social media, and lack of treatment. Receiving help for mental disorders is a necessary step in this generation moving forward and becoming happier. Adults must contribute as well by seeking out and putting an end to stress causing factors. For example, teachers could assign less homework and parents can offer their full support to their children during hard times. This generation’s mental health is in a dark place, but there is still time to improve it.