Many studies have shown that young people today suffer from depression and anxiety disorders to a far greater extent than those in previous generations.[1]  Yet positive mental health means more than an absence of disorders.  In fact, adolescents possess many intrinsic resources and have access to resources in the outside world that can shield them from sources of stress and anxiety.  Through finding and acting on their passions, adolescents need not become overwhelmed by the burdens of exams, parental expectations, peer pressure,  and the downsides of social media.  Young people today feel strongly about many causes, which can center them in this changing and sometimes frightening world.  Furthermore, the Gates Foundation survey in 2018 reminded us that young people around the world are more optimistic about the future than older people.[2]  Through finding their “calling,” many adolescents today are demonstrating resourcefulness and gaining inner resilience in the face of outside pressures.

Mosley’s five “wells”

Adults supporting young people with Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) needs are asked to promote Mosley’s five “wells”– spiritual, physical, intellectual, creative, and emotional–which an individual needs for wellbeing, balance, perspective, and positive mental health.[3]  .  Accessing the emotional “well” would involve an individual spending unconditional time with those close to them, building relationships, expressing their feelings, and having fun playing sport or simply spending time doing something they enjoy.  In fact, it is often through work with youth organizations such as World Youth Alliance, which has over one million members[4], that young people gain this sense of belonging and find their “tribe.”  Another study states that young people will find resilience from the following sources[5]: caring or supportive adults; their own naturally easygoing, sociable disposition; smart thinking skills; talents; a belief in themselves and in making decisions[6]; and spirituality or religiosity[7].

When actions effect change

Since the detrimental impact of humans’ impact on the planet through climate change has become a hot topic, increasingly more young people are becoming involved in movements to mitigate this.  These young activists are demanding that their opinions be heard.  While this clearly helps the environmental cause, it also bolsters these youngsters who “report greater self-confidence and influence among peers.”[8]  Feeling that their viewpoints are important and that they have the power to influence their own futures has an enormously positive impact on an individual’s senses of self-worth and self-esteem.  Moreover, believing that their actions may effect change for environmental policy is empowering.  Participation in movements that campaign and demonstrate on the ground means that an individual is accessing vitality from Mosley’s emotional and intellectual “wells.”

That members of the younger generation are passionate about social and environmental movements for change and have taken actions to show their views should inspire those who worry that young people are apathetic and fearful of the world.  Studies have shown that  this generation’s opinions are socially highly relevant and “serve as a barometer of social change.”[9]   Our culture is molded and directed by civil movements such as the Extinction Rebellion, which is fortified by their young members.  While working with these organizations, young people become connected, focused, and united by their common goal.  These actions and mindsets are strong deterrents against depression and other mental health conditions.

Today, young people are in fact leading the charge for change in places where they feel it is needed.  Engaged living of this sort elicits greater levels of happiness, hope, gratitude, and overall life satisfaction, all of which create a buffer zone against depression.[10]  Notably, since the voting age was lowered to 16 in Scotland, there was a 20% higher turnout amongst those aged 16-18 than there was amongst those aged 18-24 in the Scottish referendum.[11]  The engagement of these youngsters is further evidence of their desire to be heard and involved in the direction of their country’s future.

Playing and engaging in sport and physical activity

Any form of physical activity can not only improve a young person’s physical fitness, but it can also benefit their mental well being, help them form social relationships as well as increase confidence and widen future expectations. Team sports are a good way for young people to meet in a safe environment and develop relationships and a sense of belonging. Mastering a sport or physical pursuit  can also increase feelings of self-confidence and self esteem.

More compassion and sensitivity 

Young people also feel compassion and sensitivity toward others, which frequently goes hand in hand with their passionate beliefs.  While sensitivity has been negatively portrayed in the media and youth are sometimes portrayed as “snowflakes,” sensitivity can be a huge source of strength that allows individuals to become attuned to those around them.  In order to nurture artistic and creative talents, a person must nurture their sensitivity to the world.  Young people, on average, often experience events more deeply and are more inclined to embrace new ideas than older people.  For sensitive individuals, self-care must be attended to more consistently, as otherwise the unwelcome effects of self-neglect are felt more sharply than by those who are “tougher.”[12]

Technology

Another source of strength for adolescents is technology.  The internet provides people with multiple sources of strength and vast quantities of information through online communities.  It also offers unbounded avenues through which adolescents find like-minded groups of people for creative, physical, or even spiritual activities.  Moreover, young people today are extremely capable of navigating their way around the web.  Those who self-identify as LBGTQ+ will know how to find the community of like-minded people that they need online, even if they’re unable to find such a group in their everyday lives.  Information provided online is also a helpful place for adolescents to learn about health, puberty, and sexuality.  Since the web is anonymous, it acts as a perfect platform for teenagers to explore topics before they are prepared to speak about them with parents or friends.[13]  Certain mental health organizations provide online services to help teenagers quit smoking or to receive online counseling.  Healthy eating and exercise apps can also be downloaded to help support an individual’s physical health.[14]  Because the internet allows these young adults to connect with each other easily, it is a force for good in the lives of young people when it is not overused or used for negative purposes.

When we consider the challenges that today’s adolescents face, it is vital to remember how strong they can be and how they can develop resilience and stability.  Mental health conditions need not cripple our young people.  Their aptitudes that result from their teenage experiences  will fortify them through challenging times and allow them to look optimistically toward to the future, having gained the tools to deal with these turbulent times.

 

Sources:

[1]https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/teenage-depression-mental-health-drugs-antisocial-behaviour-generation-z-a8800291.html 

[2]https://www.gatesfoundation.org/Media-Center/Press-Releases/2018/09/Gates-Foundation-Poll-Finds-Young-People-More-Optimistic-About-Future-Than-Older-Generations

[3] https://www.circle-time.co.uk/supporting-staff-wellbeing-five-wells/

[4] https://www.one.org/international/blog/10-youth-movements-that-are-changing-the-world/

[5] Masten, A. S., & Coatsworth, J. D. (1998). The development of competence in favorable and unfavorable environments: Lessons from research on successful children. American Psychologist, 53(2), 205-220. 3

[6] Compas, B. E., Banez, G. A., Malcarne, V., & Worsham, N. (1991). Perceived control and coping with stress: A developmental perspective. Journal of Social Issues, 47(4), 23-34. 4

[7]  Smith, C., & Denton, M. L. (2005). Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[8] Nelms, C. (2015). Who Is the Adolescent Environmentalist? Environmental Attitudes, Identity, Media

Usage and Communication Orientation. Journal of Environmental Communication, 11(4), 537–553.

[9] Wray-Lake, L. Flanagan, C.A., & Osgood, D.W. (2010). Examining Trends in Adolescent Environmental Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors Across Three Decades. Environment and Behavior, 42(1), 61–85.

[10] Froh, J.J., Kashdan, T.B., Yurkewicz, C., Fan, J., Allen, J., & Glowacki, J. (2010). The Benefits of Passion and Absorption in Activities: Engaged Living in Adolescents and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(4), 311–332.

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jan/29/have-faith-in-our-generation-16-17-year-olds-voting

[12] Wachter, A. (2014). Advantages of Being Highly Sensitive. Huffington Post.

[13] Center for Innovative Public Health Research. (2018). Benefits of Teens Using Technology.

[14] Center for Innovative Public Health Research. (2018). Benefits of Teens Using Technology.