Youth encompasses the upcoming future of any society. The United Nations defines youth as persons coming under the age group of 15-24. Even individuals in their late twenties are referred to as youths. You may have heard slogans and quotes from many organizations that involve the word “youth”. This population is the target for many as it represents the future.
For a bright future, mental health is a prime component, and it is one aspect that is often neglected. We see many individuals belonging to this group lacking awareness, especially in their teen years. This unawareness and disregard for the mental health needs of the youth bring us to discuss the most common mental-health related issues faced by many youths.
This age group is one where most individuals face career and relationship-related concerns, hormonal changes, a range of emotional problems, depression, issues with self-concept and self-esteem and many more.
The most common concern faced by many is career-related stress. This population includes those in higher grades, those deciding on what specific field to pursue, newly graduated individuals looking for jobs, and those who have just started their jobs. A bunch of stressors are associated with this aspect. Most individuals face familial and educational pressure to be overachievers, regardless of one’s specific aptitude and interests.
We have students in such environments facing mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, which reach clinical levels, leading to suicidality, self-harm, clinical depression, and conduct disorders. Their self-esteem and self-efficacy also get affected. With the rise of high demanding jobs and competition in the job market, there is pressure to succeed. The coping mechanisms used to deal with these stressors vary from individual to individual, with some being adaptive and some maladaptive. The latter affecting them well into adulthood.
Another set of issues are those related to gender identity and sexual orientation. We live in a heteronormative patriarchal society. Since the time we are born, we are surrounded by gendered play and training which is consistent according to our biological sex. In addition to this heterosexuality is promoted by our society. This makes it difficult for individuals to explore themselves and their sexual orientation. Another major crisis faced by most is coming out to their family and society. This crisis is surrounded by self-doubt and emotional distress. There may be a lot of contemplation about acceptance by the family and society. And those that embrace their identity face another set of challenges concerning stigma and prejudice. All this contributes to a range of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, gender dysphoria, self-harm and even suicidality. The lack of awareness and acceptance surrounding the different gender identities and sexual orientations makes it a challenge for many to even accept themselves.
Another set of mental health issues arise from relationships (romantic and non-romantic). Early youth is where puberty hits most individuals, a stage where romantic relationships start. The start of relationships brings about the exploration of sexual orientation too, along with rejections and heartbreaks. Some may find themselves and figure out who they are as individuals. With rejection and heartbreak, there may also be self-doubt. One most common concern of the youth (especially girls) is body image issues. This may lead to a range of eating disorders. The relationship with families is also explored, with individuals trying to seek independence. Familial conflict is another major part of a growing youth.
Mental health issues include, but are not limited to the above-mentioned concerns. Various situational, environmental and personal variables work together to create mental health concerns that are specific and unique to each individual. To generalise them would be to disregard individual experience, develop schemas and even biases. Thus, it is important to make sure that individual experience is not discounted.
Environmental factors contribute immensely to the mental health of the youth. Protective factors and risk factors present while growing up have consequences at a larger scale, well into adulthood for any individual. When neglected, these issues intensify and have both physical and psychological consequence. Protective factors include a loving and peaceful family environment, free of conditions of worth, unconditional positive regard, and most importantly an environment that promotes personal growth.
Thus, there is a need to educate the youth as well as the individuals that make up the environment that surrounds them. These include family, friends, teachers as well as their working environment. The protective factors may work in favour of promoting the holistic development of an individual, with the least mental health consequences for the individual as an adult. Although this does not mean individuals with protective factors do not develop mental health concerns. This means that we as a society can do our level best at promoting each youth to its fullest potential.