A new study found that five times more American high school and college students struggle with mental health issues today than young adults who were the same age during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Researchers at five universities analyzed more than 77,000 respondents to the popular Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Hypomania, a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism, was detected in 31% of students in 2007 as compared to only 5% of students in 1938. Depression was noted in 6% of students in 2007, versus only 1% in 1938. The study also found a significant increase in "psychopathic deviation," which is defined as having difficulties relating to authority figures and feeling as though the rules don't apply to you. The number of youth who scored high in that category rose from 5% in 1938 to 24% in 2007.
The study did not offer definitive reasons for the increase in mental health problems, but experts suspect cultural influences that emphasize external measures of success. The lead author of this study is also the author of a book called Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled- and More Miserable Than Ever Before. The book, published in 2006, makes the case that pop culture creates unhealthy pressures that negatively impact young people. Other mental health professionals have chronicled the mistakes of so-called "helicopter" parents, who hover over their children to protect them from every perceived slight and failure. Such children don't develop the real-life coping skills needed to stick to a budget or accept criticism from a boss.
More research is surely needed to pinpoint the causes for the upswing, but the study does provide hard numbers for the argument that a growing number of students have mental health concerns. I'll bet there are many factors that the research did not account for, such as absence of fathers, use of drugs, and the failure of schools to teach kids the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.
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