“A Generation In Crisis”: Why Young Adults Are Miserable

Today’s twenty-somethings ought to be enjoying the most exciting and productive years of their lives, but in fact they are riddled with anxiety, depression and despair about the future.

An alarming study recently has found that 18 to 30-year-olds are unhappier and more likely to suffer from mental health issues than ever before. Of the thousands of young British adults polled, 47% described themselves as lacking self-confidence, and one in three admitted to being worried about their mental health. “Make no mistake about it,” said Dr Carole Easton, the chief executive of Young Women’s Trust, who commissioned the study, “we’re talking about a generation of young people in crisis.”

And this is not a phenomenon isolated to Britain. In a separate study carried out in San Diego and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, it was found that people in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety and stress, plus the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction and well-being, of any demographic. Although it has long been known that happiness generally increases with age as people’s lives tend to become more stable, this new data suggests the trend of depression and anxiety in young people actually seems to be worsening.

Unsurprisingly this “crisis” has been linked to low pay and lack of opportunities. Many university graduates find themselves forced to move back in with their parents, and are not starting families until much later in life. Of 4,000 18 to 30 year-olds interviewed as part of the No Country for Young Women study, 43% still lived at home, and 56% were considering moving abroad for work. Dr Carole Easton labels this scenario “suspended adulthood,” in which financial pressures and fears about uncertain futures inevitably impact the mental health of those affected.

“The young women I talk to at Young Women’s Trust worry about housing and having security,” says Easton. “They want to have a home they can afford and a job that pays enough for them to pay their bills [. . .] for many young people buying has become a pipe dream and they know that renting is going to be their only option. But even this is becoming unattainable.”

The question of who is to blame for this cycle of financial insecurity and increased mental health issues is still up for debate. Traditional media is undoubtedly guilty of promoting conventional careers, families and home ownership, while simultaneously making young people aware of how difficult this is to achieve in reality. And Social media has also been blamed for increasing status anxiety. There is also the issue that life is generally more unstable today than it has ever been, changing jobs has become more common, we are more mobile, life is travels a lot faster with added weight of expectation.

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Dilip Jeste agrees that for a young adult, “there is constant peer pressure: you’re looking at others and always feeling bad that you’re not succeeding like some of them.”

So what can be done about the problem? “We need to invest much more in the provision of services and expertise which can prevent normal anxieties and stresses becoming full blown mental health problems,” argues Easton. “Teachers and families are key to spotting concerns and making sure support is offered to young people when they need it.  But they need support and training too.”

Perhaps it’s also time for the expectations of society to catch up with reality. After all, young people are growing up in a wildly different cultural and economic landscape to the one their parent’s experienced. Believing their life trajectory should mimic the generation they follow is surely wrong, and for the sake of their health, misguided.