Yesterday the New York Times published the article titled, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety.” The article highlights many of the cultural changes that have created the perfect environment for increases in anxiety.
One is the perception of increased expectations: adolescents in particular need to do more and more (and do it perfectly) in order to get to the “right” school, so they get the “right degree” and can live productive, successful lives. A second factor is related to changes in the use of social media. Many teenagers are seemingly glued to their phone, refreshing apps like Facebook and Instragram to ensure they don’t miss out on something. This interconnectedness both facilitates fears of others judging us and serves as a means to avoid emotions. In fact, some research (as highlighted in another recent article) suggests that smartphones and social media are directly related to increases in teenage mental health concerns.
Evidence based treatments for anxiety disorders, require individuals to recognize what it is they are avoiding and then to face those things head on through a technique called exposure. For teens who are afraid of failing, treatment might include purposely making mistakes. If fear about school has increased to the point that teens are no longer attending, early treatment goals might include visiting the school after hours. Clinicians can help teens identify the things they are avoiding and design exposure exercises that will reduce their anxiety and improve their quality of life.