The Impact Today's Society Is Having On Young People's Mental And Physical Health

In the U.K., young people are more likely to report mental health problems than older age groups: 70 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds say they struggle with their mental health compared to 68 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds and 58 percent of people 55 and over. In the face of job insecurity and constant connectedness, Millennials and members of generation Z are faced with challenges their parents didn’t have tackle at the same age. And those challenges can take a serious toll on mental and physical health.

Constant Connectivity

In 2008, 17 percent of people in the U.K. owned a smartphone. A decade later, that number skyrocketed to 78 percent. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, that figure jumps to 95 percent. On average, people in the U.K. check their smartphones every 12 minutes (save for when they’re sleeping). With all this screen time, young people rarely have a chance to be with their thoughts. But by relentlessly looking at their phones—even on the toilet—young people don’t give their brains the reprieve they so desperately need, which can lead to a greater risk for poor sleep quality, anxiety, and depression.

Body Image

Social media can knock the self-esteem of even the most confident person. It’s not just the idealized images that impact young people—it’s the comments and the likes. Teenagers report that celebrities, influencers, friends, and acquaintances garner positive attention by losing weight, wearing minimal clothing, and posting sexualized images that are often altered and enhanced. On the flip side, they read negative, bodyshaming comments on photos deemed less flattering. This behaviour can not only meaningfully damage mental health, it can also persuade young people to take drastic measures—like altering their diet, overdoing it at the gym, or going under the knife—to achieve what they consider the perfect body.

Job Security

Young people—particularly those under 25 years old—are about four times as likely to be unemployed as older generations. From July to September 2018, 476,000 16- to 24-year-olds in the U.K. were unemployed. Research shows, perhaps not surprisingly, that mental health significantly declines with an increasing number of hours underemployed. While lack of income accompanies unemployment, people without jobs miss out on making important connections.

Social Isolation

A nationwide survey called The Loneliness Experiment found that 16- to 24-year-olds experience loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. While 29 percent of people 65 to 74 and 27 percent of people 75 and over reported feeling lonely often or very often, 40 percent of people 16 to 24 felt the same. Though younger generations are more connected via social media, texting, gaming, and other tech-facilitated modes of communication, high use of these platforms is associated with loneliness, depression, and social anxiety—especially if it replaces in-person social interaction.

Healthy Ways To Manage These Challenges

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are several ways to deal with these pervasive challenges. For starters, it’s important to consider your physical health a top priority. By stocking your refrigerator and pantry with plenty of nourishing, nutrition-dense foods, drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and making time for movement—be it strength training, walking, yoga, or whatever type of exercise you enjoy most—you can better prepare yourself for outside stressors. Eating well and taking care of yourself can also boost your confidence. And while technology isn’t going anywhere, you can reduce your screen time by taking a digital detox, not putting your work email on your phone, and putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode for set hours of the day.

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