Why Teen Anxiety is Skyrocketing

Teen anxiety numbers are up. Way up. While mental, physical and hormonal changes linked to puberty may have long left teens particularly vulnerable to anxiety and other mental health issues, teens today appear to be more anxious than ever.

According to an American College Health Association survey, 62 percent of undergraduate students who responded to the survey in 2015 said they felt “overwhelming anxiety.” That percentage has been steadily increasing over the years.

  • 62 percent: Undergrad students who felt overwhelming anxiety in 2015
  • 50 percent: Undergrad students who felt overwhelming anxiety in 2011

A study from the Higher Education Research Institute focused on incoming college freshmen, asking if they felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do the year before entering college. Again, the numbers have risen dramatically over time.

  • 18 percent felt overwhelmed in 1985
  • 29 percent felt overwhelmed in 2010
  • 41 percent felt overwhelmed in 2016

Anxiety rates in teens have gotten so high that anxiety now outweighs depression as the top reason college students seek out counseling services. Since 2012, the Boys Town National Hotline has witnessed a 12 percent increase in teens reaching out for help with anxiety and depression, as well as suicidal thoughts.

What’s Going On?

While anxiety and depression can hit teens of any background, Arizona State University professor of psychology Suniya Luthar said those with more privileged backgrounds are especially suffering.

Luthar notes such teens are prone to be extremely anxious and perfectionistic, yet the pressure to measure up can be relentless. Their parents may be applying pressure, sure, but they may also be applying even more pressure on themselves.

The gamut of teen woes that has impacted teens over generations is still in place, while new elements are adding to the anxiety levels. Historical factors for anxiety include family conflicts, school, foods they should be eating, diseases and how they’re perceived by their peers.

A more recent concern that’s cropped up over the past few years is fear of terrorism. Additional factors include the lack of meaningful personal relationships and the ongoing comparisons today’s teens tend to make between themselves and others on social media.

What Parents Can Do

While teens over the ages have generally felt some levels of anxiety, parents can take note if their teens appear to be more anxious or worried than other children of the same age. Ensuring your anxious child practices self-care with an adequate diet and sleep can help, as can journaling, engaging in mindfulness and learning to calm themselves with their breath.

Letting your anxious teen know someone is always available to listen is also extremely important, whether it’s you, a professional therapist, or both. Anxious teens need to know that’s it’s OK to feel the way they do, and people are there to help them get through any type of hardship that may arise.