Harvard’s Making Caring Common: Young Adults Suffering From Anxiety, Depression at Greater Rates Than Teens

A recent report by Harvard School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project shared the results of a study that showed that the stressors that young adults experience make them twice as likely as teenagers to experience depression or anxiety. And while the media, governments, and educational institutions have focused on the mental health of teens, just as much attention needs to be paid to those in their 20s and 30s.

The report, On Edge: Understanding and Preventing Young Adults’ Mental Health Challenges, shows that more than a third (36%) of young adults said they had anxiety compared to only 18% of teens and nearly 39% of young adults experienced depression as opposed to 15% of teenagers.

New study from Harvard’s Making Caring Common finds

Making Caring Common found five main drivers of mental health challenges in young adults

1. “A lack of meaning, purpose, and direction”

Young adults in the study didn’t feel they had a meaningful direction or path they wanted to follow. One study participant summed it up when they said, “I have no purpose or meaning in life. I just go to work, do my mundane job, go home, prepare for the next day, scroll on my phone, and repeat.”

Most of those queried didn’t find purpose in school or work; only their relationships with others gave them meaning. The epidemic of loneliness, which seems to be impacting people of every age, sits at the heart of why young adults feel adrift and disconnected from others and a larger community.

2. “Financial worries and achievement pressure”

Young adults are worrying about their financial futures. The rising price of homes and ballooning student debt have left them feeling like they will never be as well off as their parents. This financial insecurity leaves them anxious about their futures.

3. “A perception that the world is unraveling”

As we all experience stressful times, the pandemic and bleak news on global warming may be hitting young people even harder. When MCC looked at what the external drivers were for negative mental health in young people, abortion bans, climate change, corrupt politicians, and misinformation ranked among the top.

4. “Relationship deficits”

On a more personal level, the number one contributor to negative mental health was romantic stressors. Over forty percent (44%) of respondents in the study said that they had a sense of not mattering to others, and over a third reported loneliness as a problem in their lives.

5. “Social and political issues”

Gun violence in schools was seen as a contributor to poor mental health, as well as the other issues mentioned above.

While challenges of this magnitude and breadth do not lend themselves to simple or quick solutions, Making Caring Common offers three broad prevention strategies that families, employers, mentors, and colleges can begin to work on.

Three prevention strategies that families, employers, mentors, and college can employ

  1. Cultivate meaning and purpose in young people, including engaging them in caring for others and service.
  2. Supporting young people in developing gratifying and durable relationships.
  3. Help young people experience their lives as more than the sum of their achievements.

While none of this is easy, it gives us a blueprint for the ways we can help teens transition to adulthood feeling optimistic and free of mental health challenges.

One young person summed it up this way, “Doing literally anything helpful gives me a sense of purpose. I want to help guide and support people and change the world for the better. I’m not happy unless I feel I’m bringing about genuine good change, whether for individual people, a broader community, or the world at large.”

More Great Reading:

Harvard Making Caring Common: New Study on Mental Health and Parent-Teen Relationships

About Lisa Endlich Heffernan

Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author.
She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Lisa

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