Generation Anxiety

Everything’s our fault, right? Whether it’s the fact we’re too lazy, too liberal, too promiscuous, or like one article I saw, not all of us youths have seen a cow, we’re constantly at fault it seems. I don’t like the idea of such distinct groups e.g. Millennials, Y, Z – so I’ll band us together for this one piece. Those between let’s say, 16 and 35, seem to bear the brunt of the bad news, and it’s no surprise that cases of mental health illnesses, including anxiety, are on the rise.

Is Anxiety new? Of course not. So why does it feel new? Why is it that anxiety is only now being recognised as a serious illness and divided into the subsets that it deserves? Like other mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders, anxiety is simply now more talked about, more open, and in times of such turmoil and stress, it’s arguably more severe. 21% of people rate their levels of anxiety at 6 or above, and the consensus is that anywhere between 10-30% of adults suffer, or are likely to suffer from anxiety at some point.

I’m not as open with anxiety in the same way as I am with my depression, and I suppose that’s because of the anxiety itself in a way. Many of us experience anxious feelings in some way, whether it’s simply difficulty concentrating or a full-blown panic attack, and it’s most definitely on the rise amongst young people. Rachael Dove highlights this, saying that 57% of female university students experienced episodes of overwhelming anxiety, and it reflects the issues many young people have in what is essentially the most important periods of their lives.

We know what older people will say, “Oh it’s technology, social media, they need to get off their phones”. Is it really that simple? There’s evidence for and against that statement. As highlighted here, four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have a positive effect on young people. Why is that?

The study found that social media exacerbates young people’s body image anxieties, can increase loneliness, increase sleep problems, and even lead to increased levels of bullying. Despite that though, young people are very clear and upfront about the positives they feel social media brings. The connectivity it brings, not just to family and friends, but to your idols and people around the world. It allows you to express yourself in new ways, find yourself and your identity, meet people with interests like your own, and even provide emotional support.

Despite the connections it brings, social media can lead to young people feeling more isolated, out of the mix, and feeling more distant than ever. Most young people feel tied to their phones and their social media accounts, but then again most baby boomers feel tied to the idea of 1950’s Britain. So, swings and roundabouts really…

Arguably, one big reason for young people’s anxieties is the political climate they are currently living in. Since 2010 they have grown up under a Conservative government transferring wealth from young to old, poor to rich. Welfare cuts have hit the young hardest and will leave half a million more-young people living in poverty by 2020. In recent years, we have seen tuition fees trebled, bursaries slashed and removed, and both wages and job opportunities stagnate for us. And now, young people have also been ripped out of the EU by older generations despite their wishes.

What’s more worrying is that when asked whether a significant damage to the economy would be a price worth paying for Brexit, 61% of leavers said yes. Even more bizarrely, when asked if your family losing their jobs, 39% still agreed it was a price worth paying. Baby boomers, who grew up with free education, cheap housing, and generous welfare, are now denying their children and grandchildren the same privileges. Nicky Lidbetter, the chief executive of Anxiety UK also pointed out that political uncertainty is having a big effect on young people; saying that since the Tories came back into power they have seen increased calls and requests to access support services. Young people are also incredibly politically and socially aware, which is arguably why they are so worried. In fact, 75% feel the economic and political state of the world will have a big impact on their generation.

I personally believe that the biggest reason for increased anxiety in young people is simply the stresses of daily life that we must struggle with. Although I feel that I thrived in such settings, schooling and education are arguably now more factory based, and the rise of technology and choice has in my opinion made life more complicated for young people. One of the biggest issues for young people is worrying about their future, the stagnant job opportunities and wages ahead of them, student debts, and ever sky rocketing house prices.

With more pressure on social lives and appearances nowadays, we also worry about relationships, diet, figures, clothes, exercise, what our selfies look like, and how our profiles are viewed. Young people’s lives are still set against the usual ideals of the generations before them: the marriage, the house buying, the kids, and these so-called ideals are more complicated to achieve than before. And of course, not everyone wants to. We’re named ‘Generation Rent’ for a reason. Millennials will see two recessions before they’re 30, Generation Y before they’re 20, and almost half of young people expect to put off having children because of financial pressures. As highlighted by Greg Jericho, for the first time, members of “Generation Y” will be the first generation to be less wealthy than that of their parents.

It’s no surprise that all of this is having such a big effect on young people’s mental health. Over half of 18 to 30-year olds say they are worried about the future, 47% say they lack self-confidence and 42% that they feel worn down. Most believe their lives will be more of a struggle than those of their parents’; incredibly 79% of young people worry about just getting a job, and 72% also worry about future debt. And you can’t say that young people aren’t making the effort. Millennials and Generation Y are part of a culture where working isn’t 9-5, it’s flexible yet demanding, with 68% saying that they check their work emails from home, and 43% neglecting to take their allotted holiday time because they want to get ahead in the workplace.

It’s also taking a huge effect on our social lives. Despite the media coverage highlighting young people’s so called casual approach to sex, 15% of millennials and Generation Y had not had sex when they turned 18, compared to 11.5% for those born in the early seventies. Face to face contact is being slowly replaced with technology, as 4 in 10 more Millennials interact more with their phones than with the people in their lives. Yes, young people maybe should be making more of an effort to reverse this, but there is no doubt that our demanding and stressful lives are becoming a big hindrance on this.

When I think about these factors and the effects they have had on my life, it’s easy to see why anxiety levels in young people are so high. Like a lot of young people, I am driven, I want to push myself as far as I can, and I want to get the most out of my life. But, my anxiety hinders this. It makes socialising hard, makes simple tasks a struggle, and as I’m trying to put myself out there and take on new projects as a perfectionist, this adds big challenges. As I’ve mentioned before, I worry how the anxiety and mental health problems I have will hinder my future: climbing the ladder at work, meeting new people, finding someone, and having the successful future I want.

Anxiety is a growing problem in young people for countless reasons, and in an ever worsening political and economic climate, it’s hard to see how this can be annulled. It would be nice if our elders could start to learn and understand our problems, but again it’s hard to see that happening. Young people bear the brunt of the issues created by the boomers, and it seems like it will be us that will continue to pay for these actions and decisions in the future.

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