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Recommending Some Podcast Episodes on the Mental Health of Young People

The other night, I was catching up on some podcasts when, coincidentally, there were two episodes back to back in my queue that both discussed, in different ways, the youth mental health crisis.

What I found interesting about both was how much and little we know.

The first was Dr. Laurie Santos and the Happiness Lab interviewing Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (director of Oxford University’s Wellbeing Research Centre) about the World Happiness Report, which did a special section on young people’s happiness and found some shocking realities.

The one thing I’ve been talking about over and over again is pointing the finger at social media and saying that the sole reason why America’s young people are struggling with their mental health is taking the lazy way out. As they discussed in the interview, we see countries like the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand falling in the rankings for happiness mostly because young people are struggling. Social media usage probably has something to do with that, but it doesn’t explain everything. For example, why did they not see corresponding drops due to unhappy young people in Europe and Asia? To get more specific, why is the decline in Canada exclusively in the English-speaking areas of the country? Why do young people in Québec seem to be less affected?

Do young people in those areas use social media less overall? Do they use it differently? I’m not sure we can answer that question. However, more importantly, they did identify some other possibilities. Do US and Canadian news networks cover news that attracts viewers and clicks by being fearful, but French-speaking media in Canada and European media do not? Are kids in these countries being inundated with bad news? Is the growing income disparity creating an anomaly in the typical happiness analysis looking at median income across an entire country? (In essence, are the uber-rich 1% skewing the income numbers to make it appear the US median income is healthy even though it isn’t, and young people are feeling the brunt of it?)

The reality is that the mental health crisis is likely some combination of all of these things, and I believe this interview makes that clear, even if they spend a little too much time blaming social media.

The second podcast episode was Adam Grant’s interview with Meg Jay, author of The Twentysomething Treatment.

I found this an interesting follow-up to the Happiness Lab episode because here, we see someone working with people in their twenties, identifying some of the issues and how many of them stem from being unprepared for adulthood. I have talked about how abuse survivors often hit their 20s with no clue how to exist in the world because they were surviving instead of developing. Meg describes large groups of people hitting their 20s with a similar lack of development. Again, scrolling social media instead of developing social skills is part of that, but that’s not the only thing contributing to this. There are also some extreme social pressures to know your future in a very uncertain world—one where the media is all too happy to exploit our fear of uncertainty. There are also some bad parenting decisions and poor educational systems that focus exclusively on STEM at the expense of the flexible skills that would help us all navigate a future where our jobs will look nothing like what we learned in college in just a few short years.

Listen to both episodes. You’ll be challenged to think about youth mental health in a much broader sense. Hopefully, you will also see that these are not easy questions to answer and that existing in the world and planning for a future right now is hard. It’s no wonder that young people are struggling. It’s time we start taking serious steps toward making it less challenging for everyone and quit looking for a silver bullet that’ll fix it.

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