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In our opinion: This is a vexed generation

Deseret News

School starts this week for thousands of teens across the state. The excitement of fresh clothes, new courses and meeting old friends is matched by the worries of fitting in, reaching expectations and avoiding failure.

Those are normal concerns, but today’s youths are a vexed generation facing hurdles unknown to previous ages, and the Deseret News is committed to shaping spaces for teens, parents and communities to advance the right conversations that will help youths recognize and courageously face the anxiety and societal pressures that pervade their cohort.

In an ongoing series titled “Generation Vexed,” Deseret News reporters have dug deep into research at the intersection of teens, social media and mental illnesses. Here are a few of the findings:

  • While some flippantly throw around the term “anxiety” to describe any stressful emotion, it is a real mental disorder, and it’s on the rise. Of surveyed health care professionals, 86 percent report seeing an increase in anxiety-related issues among teens. Today, nearly 32 percent of U.S. adolescents 13-18 will experience an anxiety disorder at some point, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • Youths are reporting higher rates of isolation. From 2011 to 2015, researchers found a 30 percent increase in eighth- and 10th-graders who said they often felt lonely.
  • Girls are experiencing symptoms at higher rates than boys. Nearly 38 percent of teen girls have an anxiety disorder, compared with 26 percent of boys, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Girls comprise a full 90 percent of hospital visits related to eating disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Additionally, girls are more likely than boys to engage in nonsuicidal self-harm.
  • The effects of social media on teens are still unclear, despite the common belief that adolescents are more isolated today because they spend more time in front of screens. Nevertheless, experts believe social media increases the so-called “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, drive. And placing unreal expectations of body image and pictures of unattainably perfect lives in the palms of their hands hasn’t helped their self-esteem.

Beyond digesting and reporting research, the Deseret News has hosted free screenings of the film "Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety" accompanied by panel discussions about what anxiety is and what to do about it. Five more screenings are scheduled throughout the fall, with more to come. Parents and teens can find locations, times and ticket information at DeseretNews.com.

The aim of these efforts is to inform and engage the public on the facts of life today. Teens burdened by debilitating symptoms must feel loved and safe in order to open up and find the help they need, and parents must fully understand the reality of mental disorders and approach affected children from a place of compassion.

We simply ask teens, parents, educators and community leaders to recognize the crisis and join in the conversation. Through open discussion and honest evaluation, Utah can create a safe harbor for anyone experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.

Behind a smiling face is often a mind in unrest, but love, support and understanding will make this a winning school year for the teens who need it most.