The Kids May Not Be Alright
Anxiety and depression are increasing in some American students who feel the weight of a troubling world
Savanna Harper looks over her shoulder as she crosses her college campus, quickening her pace between buildings. “Anxiety” is how she labels the feeling she can’t quite shake off, the worry that her campus might be the next scene of a mass shooting. She’s never been a witness or a victim, but her friend was at the shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas, on October 1, 2017, an event that left 58 people dead and more than 850 injured. “That was a little too close to home,” Savanna says.
Savanna is not the only young person concerned about her safety — or her future. Her anxiety seems particularly salient after the recent deaths of a dozen young people at a college bar in Thousand Oaks, California, and only a few weeks after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
Christine MacInnis, who has been a school counselor for 23 years and a private therapist for 10, works extensively with high school and college students. In the past decade, she has seen an uptick in anxiety and depression among her younger clients.
“A lot of what is causing the growing rates of these mental health problems is the speed and ease by which we come in contact with negative news,” MacInnis says. “I have seen a huge spike in panic attacks, generalized anxiety, and depression due to the overwhelming amount of difficult topics constantly being discussed.”
Politics Have a Documented Psychological Impact
Recent research has documented the negative impact that politics and current events have on young people’s mental well-being. A survey conducted among Arizona State University students following the 2016 presidential elections found that 25 percent of students experienced clinically significant event-related distress. In other words, a fourth of all survey respondents had symptoms that would qualify them for an official psychological diagnosis.
According to the authors, repeated exposure to words and images that threaten one’s identity or perpetuate negative stereotypes can also negatively affect psychological well-being. Election-related rhetoric…