Roll out of bed, go to class, catch up on another class’s reading on your phone, read your roommate’s subtweets, take notes in lecture, learn that your professor’s putting the notes online anyway, spend the rest of class looking through your ex’s new SO’s Instagram, subtweet your roommate, grab food with a friend while scrolling through your Tumblr dashboard — and it’s not even noon.
Suffice it to say, the modern college student’s life involves a lot more than studying and IRL socializing, and it’s taking its toll. A new New York Times report reveals that anxiety is now the biggest mental health problem facing the young adult demographic, and that more and more students as young as in their preteens are grappling with the panic and pressure that are the condition’s hallmarks.
found that out of over 100,000 students who’d sought counseling and mental health treatment, 55% were coming in with anxiety, versus 45% with depression (the former foremost concern) and 43% with stress. Out of all those who came in, 1 in 6 students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety — more than 15,000 students, in the study’s pool.
For those of us who’ve grown up over the past couple of decades, the findings really shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. Between the advent of all-hands-on-deck helicopter parenting, the rise of regimented testing and data-driven education, and a technoculture that moves at a relentlessly fast pace, it’s safe to say that sometimes, everything is overwhelming and nothing seems doable and maybe it’s your choice to pull your covers over your head and hibernate on Netflix for a little bit and try not to cry at the prospect of going outside and interacting with people while the thought that a million things need to be done right now makes you physically hurt: This is a sentiment that young adults these days deal with both on and offline, and its source is a direct result of our new cultural climate.
The Times quotes a counseling director as saying that, “a lot [of students] are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations… They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.” Disregarding the weird, self-implicating tone of that statement, the issue is, at least from someone who personally experiences a lot of anxiety, less about “tolerating discomfort” and more about having to figure out how to express it. And that’s at the heart of today’s teens’ and 20-somethings’ struggles.
A 2010 Times study reported that nearly half of all students seeking counseling had serious mental health issues; the rate was double that of 2000’s. Part of this has to do with the relatively recent emergence of mental health as something people can talk about openly; statistics and anecdotal evidence from earlier generations are skewed in the way that, say, visible LGBTQ populations were. So it does makes sense that more and more young adults are talking about and seeking treatment for mental health issues.
But why, specifically, anxiety as both condition and concern? Its prevalence, as the article claims, makes it seem like “a cliché,” but for many students, anxiety serves as a buzzword that often includes other symptoms like depression; withdrawal from social interactions (#FOGO); agoraphobia; fear about an uncertain future regarding relationships, jobs, and aspirations; desires to measure up to the easily-trackable accomplishments of their friends and rivals; and of course, #FOMO. But in turn, worrying about your anxiety then doubles the anxiousness — Why am I worrying about these things instead of doing something about them? What can I do about them? What’s the benefit of doing something about them? In a culture that teaches you to always be going above and beyond while scrutinizing the actions and accomplishments of those around you, when you falter at any step along your life journey, it’s difficult to just shrug it off and keep moving; comparisons and expectations, self-imposed or otherwise, are everywhere. Especially for college students who’ve often been uprooted from their communities of choice, it can be overwhelming. But, there is something to be said from knowing that you’re far from the only one out there feeling the same way — it bears repeating, you are not alone, and you are not your anxiety.
If you regularly have anxious feelings, or have felt some form of extreme anxiety before, seek professional treatment from trained counselors and therapists. For a first-person account of anxiety, our very own writer Sammy Nickalls has tackled the subject before:
Stay strong, Gigglers, and remember that seeking help when you need it is its own sort of strength. You’ve got this.
(Illustration by Ambivalently Yours, for more of her amazing work visit www.ambivalentlyyours.com )