Youth Culture Window

Struggling with Self

Dynamic ImageA recent article from the NY Times asks the question, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?” Given that the National Institute of Mental Health claims anxiety disorders are now the most common form of mental illness in the U.S., it’s definitely a question worth pondering.

There are so many possible answers you can take your pick.

Possible Suspects
Although anxiety and depression are separate problems, they tend to go hand in hand, and recently, many outlets have been declaring a rise in both for teens. Girls tend to be hit the hardest on this front, with the latest data available showing 17% of teen girls struggling with it as opposed to 6% of boys. Sadly, that has translated into an accompanying uptick in teen suicide. In fact, research has revealed a “substantial increase” in this morbid activity with the rate amongst girls hitting a 40-year high.

So, what’s causing this troubling rise in anxiety and depression?

Interestingly, it could be linked to growing obesity rates. After all, these days there are ten times more children and teens suffering from obesity than 40 years ago. Research led by the Imperial College in London studied global trends of young people and found that a whopping 213 million kids and teens (worldwide) were significantly overweight in 2016. Here in the US, roughly 20% of kids between 5 and 19 years of age were obese. Those unhealthy eating habits coupled with low self-esteem could give anxiety and depression a great place to grow.

In an article from the Telegraph, it was hypothesized that another reason depression was so rampant in young girls was because they suffered from “body image dissatisfaction” a condition that arises when comparing themselves to the likes of Kim Kardashian. (Maybe someone should point out to these young girls all the times celebrities have been busted for Photoshopping their images.) The article went on to list 19 other possible causes of depression and anxiety. Here are a few of the biggies:


  • Social media. There’s little doubt this is the case given the copious amounts of research being done on this phenomenon. One study found that the more social media was used over time (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc), the more likely users experienced “negative physical health, negative mental health, and negative life satisfaction.”



  • Sexual indiscretions. Whether it’s sexting, sex, or even sexy music, our culture’s glorification of flirting, flings, and fornication can breed personal regret and self-dissatisfaction.

Factor in other possible causes such as a break up, controlled substance abuse, poor academic reports, lower economic status, and the threat of terrorism or nuclear holocaust, and it’s easy to see why today’s kids might adopt a grim image of themselves and their world.

Making Young Lives Better
Depression and anxiety is a growing problem within today’s younger generation and based on the data, good conscience shouldn’t allow us to assume the problem will fix itself. We can’t afford the risks associated with these realities, so it’s best to be proactive in helping teens develop a more positive, even godly, image of themselves.

Parents and youth workers are among the best agents for accomplishing such change. In addition to the obvious points of care such as monitoring social media, engaging their friends, and steering them clear of alcohol and drugs, here are a few ideas to help you impact your kids’ mind and heart.

  1. Don’t allow stigma to be attached to the conversation. For too long, anyone struggling with depression or anxiety has run the risk of being marginalized or pushed aside with a label. Don’t let that happen. Make sure you’re having conversations about the subject, and do so through healthy dialogue. In no way does this mean we make excuses for anxiety or depression, but we need to be mindful of the brokenness and not let the cure exacerbate the problem. Make sure you impart hope through your conversations. Share stories of men and women who’ve overcome their anxieties and bouts with depression – like the Prophet Elijah – to go on and live healthy, God-honoring lives.
  2. Use God’s Word to address the subject. Anxiety and depression have their roots in failure, worry, doubt, fear, and an incorrect view of one’s self. Fortunately, the Bible addresses all of these subjects and much more. God’s Word talks about His love for us, His pursuit of us, His sacrifice on our behalf, and the purpose He instills in those of us willing to obey Him. It’s far more difficult to live in the grip of anxiety and depression when we rightly understand who God is and our identity in Him. The Source for Youth Ministry has tons of completely free resources you can use like this MUSIC DISCUSSION on hopethis MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSION about depression, or this YOUTUBE DISCUSSION on self-worth. And Jonathan McKee’s new book, The Teen’s Guide to Social Media and Mobile Devices is a great conversation springboard to dialogue about not letting “likes” and “followers” determine our self esteem.

If your teenager is suffering any degree of anxiety or depression, get them whatever help they may need, including professional counseling. There’s no need for our kids to bear the internal and harsh struggle these conditions bring. Do everything necessary to prevent anxiety and lift them from depression.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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