Stress and young people
It is startling how many young people have told me that they are suffering from stress and anxiety, and the figures match. According to Anxiety UK, as many as 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety problem at some point. Many of those young people also have symptoms of depression, for which GPs can prescribe medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac).
It has become obvious that young people are suffering more and more with these types of mental health issues. One out of every fifteen young people uses self-harm as a way of coping – that’s two young people in every classroom. Why is this the case? Have things changed in the last decade to cause this shift?
Mounting pressures on young people
What are some of the key causes of stress for young people today? Here's six prevalent issues that young people are facing.
The education system is piling on the pressure on young people to ‘succeed’ in their exams, with exam style ‘baseline testing’ beginning as early as reception class in primary school (when children are 4 years old). This brings young people up in a culture where they are graded and marked on how ‘clever’ they are from such a young age that this starts to make young people feel that they are only good if they are ‘clever’.
Not only can this make young people doubt themselves if they don’t make the grade – but exam stress is starting from younger and younger. If a teenager is not academic, it is harder for them to achieve ‘good grades’ so their stress and anxiety levels sky rocket. This can start the first signs of severe anxiety – which can have a lasting effect into adulthood.
The world of work
Not only are young people put under huge amounts of pressure at school, they are thrust into an uncertain future once they have finished. Headlines about rising unemployment and benefit cuts for people under 25 are seriously scary to read.
When a young person finishes school, they may be stuck not knowing what they want to do – and the pressure to work takes over the instinct for the young people to take their time to really figure things out. This can have a huge impact on young people: they may end up feeling frightened and hopeless about the future. This all intensifies feelings of stress, depression and anxiety.
Young people often live with their parents, and parents have their own expectations of their children. Whether it’s pushing them to do their homework, revise for exams, or to decide what they want to ‘be’ when they’re older – parents are very good at piling on the pressure even more (even if they don’t know that they are doing it!).
Also, parents have their own struggles. If a parent is struggling with financial worries, work pressures, relationship problems, or mental health problems of their own, this can filter down to their children. This all adds to the stress. Often a parent’s mental state can be the only reference point for a young person about what is ‘normal’, and this can have a real affect on the young person’s mental health.
In addition, not all homes are happy ones; sometimes the atmosphere at home can be so overwhelming for a young person that they feel anxious and/or depressed.
Do I look good?
We are all targeted by magazines, TV, film and adverts, all of which sending messages to influence what we think. With the rise of social media – young people are even more influenced by the technological world. This media is telling us how we should look. If you don’t look like the stars, then you don’t feel good enough. The pressure to be thinner, more ‘toned’, and generally fit the stereotype of attractiveness, which is portrayed in the media, is a very hard goal to achieve.
However, young people feel they need to get there – and struggle to feel ‘good enough’ in themselves. Body image can have a severe impact on the self-esteem of young people, which is shown by high levels of eating disorders in young people. The pressure to look ‘good’ is something that can continue into adulthood – but often starts in the teenaged years.
How to fit in
Another pressure on young people is being accepted into a social circle. We are not all the same, but sometimes it feels like we have to ‘fit in’ in order to be accepted. Having friends is important for everyone, but friends where you have to pretend to be something that you are not can make you feel even more alone. The battle to be real while needing to ‘fit in’ can be such a pressure on the self-esteem of a young person, that this may intensify feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression.
Who am I?
It’s really tough to be young. All these pressures are there, every day. It is increasingly hard for young people to find the space to really figure things out and work out who they are. A young person might be thinking about their sexual identity, or questioning their friendship groups, or discovering their interests are changing – and wondering about what all this means.
Working this stuff out is hard to do, when all the stress and pressures of living as a young person are rising; which is why so many young people get so frightened that their anxiety symptoms become hard to control. Or on the other hand, young people can feel so hopeless and helpless that they lose all energy and become depressed.
How can counselling help?
Counselling will not solve all of the pressures above. However, it can be a really helpful space for a young person to talk through what they are struggling with. Some of the benefits are:
- Talking to somebody who is independent of your family of friendship circle can help you to be open and honest about your feelings, without the feeling of being judged.
- Counselling can help you to no longer feel alone
- Counselling can help you to release some of the emotion that you are holding on to
- Counselling can be a place where you can describe your symptoms and find ways of understanding how your symptoms relate to you and your life
- Counselling can offer techniques to deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as relaxation techniques
- A counsellor does not have expectations, so counselling can be a space where you feel free of some of the pressures that you face
- Counselling is a confidential place, for you to explore how you are feeling without that being discussed with anyone else. This can help you to feel safe.
If any of the issues above resonate with you, and if you feel that counselling could be of benefit, you are very welcome to come and have an initial appointment with a Palmeira Practice counsellor.