A Rise in Teen Anxiety

More than 1 in 20 U.S. children and teens regularly suffer from anxiety or depression.

If one were to walk through the halls of Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) and ask every student if they have experienced anxiety, most would likely say yes. According to a 2018 article in Science Daily, more than 1 in 20 U.S. children and teens regularly suffer from anxiety or depression. In recent years anxiety has surpassed depression as the top mental health issue among the youth of America, and its levels are still on the rise.

Scientific data, and what we know:

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1 percent of the population every year.”

Many of the teens describe anxiety like a nervous energy around all of the time and a hyper experience of stress. According to the Johns Hopkins Health Review, the diagnosis that teens can go through mental health issues such as anxiety and depression is fairly new; “Until the 1980s, psychiatrists didn’t think teenage brains were developed enough for such an adult affliction. Doctors were quick to dismiss mood disorders as simply part of normal human development.” This is unsurprising as adults are often quick to dismiss the experience of teens as just part of growing up.

According to the Washington Post, based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6-17 researchers found a 20 recent increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2001 and 2012.” The data on anxiety among 18- and 19-year-olds is even starker. Since 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has been asking incoming college freshman if they “felt overwhelmed” by all they had to do. The first year, 18 percent replied yes. By 2000, that climbed to 28 percent. By 2016, to nearly 41 percent.”  This data would appear to show that anxiety is on the rise.

Teen Anxiety

It has become a popular topic in the media and celebrities are sharing their experiences with anxiety and depression. But has this made anxiety less taboo? Does saying one has anxiety or depression actually enhance one’s credibility? Celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone are comfortable talking about their struggles with anxiety. This may help make the rest of us feel more open to talking about it, too. It is now commonly understood that mental health and physical health are linked. However, the stigmatization of mental illness remains. Many people who have anxiety are not medically diagnosed and aren’t on any medication for it. In fact they may even be unaware that that is what they are experiencing.

According to the National Institute of Health nearly a third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.

There are many reasons that teens might be facing more anxiety than adults, such as self image, social relationships, and pressures in school.

When Madelaine Gramling, a Junior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Manhattan, was asked what usually causes her anxiety she said, “Basically it’s whenever I think about things too much, that’s why I have anxiety.” Examples she gave were: “I don’t look at my grades anymore when I get my tests back because I get a panic attack, I over analyze things. Take school for example, I have to go to the same classes everyday, and then its summer, and then I have to go back to school, it’s like the thought of being trapped.”

Unlike Madeline, I haven’t been diagnosed by a therapist, but I know that I have anxiety. My anxiety is stress induced, and I am also affected by certain noises. The heavy workload of school and extracurricular activities and the urgency to keep my grades up so that I could get into a good college have all been a factor. Now that I am a senior and have gotten into college the anxiety has stuck with me and I am afraid that it always will.

How to Help, or what to do when you are faced with anxiety.

It is important for us to know what anxiety is and for society to acknowledge that it is escalating among our youth. I believe that our education system needs to respond to this and change its ways. If so many teens are stressing out about school then something is wrong with how we are being taught. School should be a safe space where we are supported and comfortable expressing ourselves without so much stress.

When young people experience anxiety I don’t believe that we really know how to help ourselves through it. Sometimes it feels like we are all alone when struggling with panic attacks. When I asked Molly, a senior at Talent Unlimited High School, also in Manhattan, how she deals with her anxiety she said, “I try to focus on other things, drink water – basic things.”

When someone experiences anxiety it is sometimes hard to think about anything good. Doing basic things like focusing on drinking water might help someone to regain their “normal” state. When Molly was asked how she might like to be helped through a panic attack she said, “I’m not sure really, it’s always nice knowing there are people there supporting you.” I believe that if you are with someone that is obviously showing signs of discomfort or distress, first ask them if they are ok, and then ask them what is going on. Then ask how to help.

When having a panic attack many people go through symptoms such as hyperventilation. Someone that is having a panic attack might want to be held close and just breath. Others might want to talk about other topics to help distract them from the feelings they are having. Some people may just want to be left alone, but being able to vocalize your feelings of anxiety is important. An NYC iSchool sophomore I spoke with said: “I don’t like talking to people about it, so not many people know when I’m experiencing these feelings and don’t know that I need help.”

For people that are experiencing anxiety, it is healthy to be able to express this to those around them, especially people that are close to them like your family and friends. It is important to feel comfortable, but it is also important to have a support group and to have people that are able to help.

If you do experience anxiety, you need to know that it is ok and that you are not alone. There is always going to be someone else that you can talk to about this. Do not hold all of your thoughts and feelings inside because that can cause even more anxiety.

– by Alice Baum ’19