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The Teen Anxiety Epidemic

Anxiety is a tough thing to deal with in itself, but especially troubling when we see it in our kids. What are some of the causes of anxiety in our children- especially today’s teens? Too much pressure on performance? The tremendous impact on anxiety from social media?
As Christians, we may ask, “Where is God in all of this? Why won’t He heal my anxiety issue or my child’s?” What are the treatment options? These and other questions will be addressed at the Parent Workshop at Island Christian Church, Northport July 2 at 7:30 PM

According to the American Psychological Association (2019) everyone worries or feels nervous from time to time. Anxiety is a normal human reaction to stressful situations. But for people with anxiety disorders, those fears and worries aren’t temporary. Their anxiety persists, and can even get worse over time.  Anxiety can be an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.

Anxiety itself has not really changed over the centuries as we’re still plagued by the same forms of stressors our ancestors endured, but the way that we deal with stressors and the quantity of stressors packed into short time frames have certainly changed. We still experience many traditional causes of anxiety such as poor health, difficult relationships, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, work stress, raising a family, exposure to violence, trauma, and conflict. However, in our modern world, some of these traditional sources of anxiety are on the increase for example loneliness, relationship factors such as divorce domestic violence including childhood abuse and neglect, increased work hours and more stressful work-related environments, and a general sense of lack of control over our own destinies – especially amongst our children who are introduced to the possibility of failure earlier and earlier in their lives.   

In addition, advances in technology have added some entirely new sources of anxiety for the present generations including 24/7 perpetual connectivity, the need to multitask in all that we do, as well as the constant exposure to media “alerts”, “events” and our political climate. Most of our children under the age of 20 will never have lived without the scourge of social media. And a scourge it can be. Heavy social media involvement has been closely associated with social anxiety, loneliness and can generate feelings of disconnectedness when we view what seems like the rich lives and social successes of others. As a consequence, our children count their social success in terms of number of followers or streaks instead of genuine confidants who would be true friends in times of difficulty and need.

Modern American culture has conditioned us to be very high in achievement, motivation, and social influence and overtime they believe this equates happiness, success, and meaning in life. This push for achievement, in reality, is difficult, daunting and intimidating, leading to anxiety. The National Institute of Mental Health has recently released their conclusions from a poll which showed that 38% of females and 26% of males aged 13-17 suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. Many are calling this type of mental illness growing epidemic. Increasingly the trappings of modern society have left us more socially isolated than ever on top of a post-Christian world view adding to our lack of spiritual connection to God and a sense of where we fit in the universe virtually destroying one of the key mechanisms available to protect against mental anguish. This shift in the social understanding surrounding anxiety has been almost contradictory in the messages it sends to us. We’re told anxiety is a legitimate response to the stresses of modern living, yet anxiety is almost considered a status symbol that signals how busy, important, and successful we are.

We are increasingly told that anxiety is an emotion in need of treatment and the pharmaceutical industry is capitalizing on the medicalization of anxiety and sell us a pharmaceutical solution for it. Medications are not the only available treatments and surprisingly their efficacy is not superior to non-medical interventions.  Although your health insurance company would have you believe otherwise. Even though social campaigns have increased awareness of mental health problems such as anxiety and to valiantly attempt to de-stigmatize it, the stigma of mental illness continues to be an issue in our world. Its impact will often delay a person who struggles with mental health from addressing their concerns the moment they have them. Other times, it has prevented a person from reaching out for help at all.

The good news is anxiety disorders are treatable, yes you read that correctly, and the vast majority of people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care. On a spiritual note, Christians are not immune to anxiety disorders. One tragic notion that persists in some Christian circles is the idea that problems like anxiety are primarily, if not completely, spiritual in nature. Many Christians sincerely believe that a person should not experience anxiety disorders if he or she just has enough faith and trust in God. That is simply not true. If you know of someone who is dealing with an anxiety disorder, and they feel that the use of treatment is somehow sinful or evidence of a lack of faith, urge them to reconsider. For some people, the use of medications and therapy is a lifeline, allowing them to function in new ways facilitating them to reconnect with God and others in their lives that otherwise may not be possible.  God can and does help us with this. 

Brian J. Harris, PsyD

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