ROUGH DRAFT RESEARCH ARTICLE

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 THE IMPACT AMERICAN CULTURE HAS ON ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION LEVELS IN COLLEGE STUDENTS  

 

Disorders of the mind, particularly depression and anxiety have been experienced for thousands of years by humans. Throughout their many names and associations, one country where they have taken an extreme toll on the population in recent years is the United States. It’s widely understood that mental health disorders have the ability to inhibit people from normally functioning in their lives, but what enforces these disorders to come about? Through a meta-analysis, the explanation of how the United States fundamentally has set it’s society up to lead anxious and depressed lives becomes clear as day. One group that amounts to great suffering of these two disorders are the over 17 million college students across the country.(Infomory, 2014) Data has shown the stressors inflicted on college students today is unprecedented. Significant players in the developments of these disorders can pertain to the type of environment student’s grow up around, the utilization of treatment services and don’t forget the massive hormonal shifts experienced during these years of young adulthood. Along with colossal costs and pressures of college, the stigmas around mental health issues and incessant and almost unavoidable social media distractions, there is more than enough reason to believe students in the United States have plenty to be anxious and depressed about. The connection between the United States and student’s levels of anxiety and depression is evident and supported through experts in the fields of social psychology, psychology and sociology. The culmination of all the societal developments that contribute to depression and anxiety symptoms in young adults attending college can range from age old traditions being abruptly changed to inherent fear of failure. There is a vast landscape of knowledge attributed to how society has the potential to shape mental health, and the United States’ culture is an exhibit A example of direct correlation.

The backstory of how the majority of Americans in college got to where they did regarding anxiety and depression really stems from what kids today believe to be normal. From childhood society begins to categorize individuals into rigid social constructs that many times cannot be broken or swayed. The stigma around mental health issues has been deeply ingrained in American society and just in recent years has begun to lose some of its weight. Labelling people as ‘crazy’ and ‘incompetent’ for disorders as ungovernable as epilepsy, have ravaged the American public for generations, mostly because of faulty information and fear mongering. The idea that people, men especially, shouldn’t complain about being stressed out or to seek help for mental health issues because it deems them weak is all too widely accepted. A study out of Indiana University titled “A Disease Like Any Other’? A Decade of Change in Public Reactions to Schizophrenia, Depression, and Alcohol Dependence” explains that regardless of the emerging research behind psychological and neurobiological reasons for illnesses of the mind, the negative stigma still persists. Although this study is relatively dated from 2010, there is considerable evidence still today that holds water with this issue. It is said in the article that stigmas related to mental illness can “produce discrimination in employment, housing, medical care and social relationships, and negatively impact the quality of life for these individuals” (Pescosolido etal., 2010) Bernice Pescosolido, a sociologist out of Indiana University who is an expert in this topic who contributed to the report as well says that as a society, we need to change our game plan. Pescosolido believes we need to take a step away from the vocal mental health advocates who according to her just “sing to the choir”. The goal is to incorporate conversation about the science and explanation about mental health issues to “well-established civic groups — groups normally not involved with mental health issues — could be very effective in making people aware” (Pescosolido etal., 2010) of the realities of these disorders. To convince people the stigma around mental health they have been taught by society for years and years may be a harder task to accomplish than imagined.

Targeting broader ranges of people in order to help them better understand the hardships of mental illness may be wishful thinking; on college campus’ across the country today, kids continue to report anxiety and depression in growing numbers. A book written by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff called “The Coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure” published in 2018, examines how safteyism is the reason younger generations are developing all these mental health issues. The book describes how “screen time [is] replacing unstructured and unsupervised play time, has created a fragile generation”(Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. 2018), and there is reason to believe this is a valid statement. The researchers, Lukianoff and Haidt both claim that because emotional challenges have often been removed from pathways kids follow due to this safteyism culture, that once they get to college their minds are overwhelmed with trying to make sense of it all. Safteyism can be defined as a belief system accepted by society in which the safety of people’s feelings and thoughts has become something valued extremely high. Author and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb, says that humans reap great benefit from adversity and working through challenges, that the human race is actually ‘infragile’ and should be susceptible to mental and physical challenges to attain personal growth. The absence of stressors in life before college for kids born after 1995 is Lukianoff and Haidt’s main focus as they say varied life experiences are what contribute to developing resilience and coping skills. As life got harder for Generation X after entering college, they began to succumb to chronic anxiety and depression because they did not have the adequate tools to deal with these new challenges and environments. By 2016, the study reports that 1 in 5 “American girls met the criteria for having experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year” (Lukianoff, G., & Haidt, J. 2018). So essentially by overparenting and overprotecting, generation X has been programmed to not deal with adversity as well as their predecessors. Regardless of how an individual was raised something even more widespread than the acceptance of safteyism culture is the ‘workaholic’ culture that has taken America by storm.

The emphasis on wanting kids to excel so much in school to become prestigious scholars and go on to lead careers in engineering, medicine, and business has also fueled much of the anxiety and depression epidemic for students. The facetious statement “those who can’t do, teach”, along with other negative connotations toward careers which don’t require extensive schooling create a very depreciatory learning environment for our student generation.  The desire to always want to excel to the peak of personal ability is a great stressor for many students in America today. Parents exhibiting excessive work habits often has a greater effect on their children than previously imagined. Observing and learning that excessive work habits lead to things like material wealth and advancement in status are often held to high esteem by American families. But what happens when they forget to factor in time to take care of their mental health? In this study by Bryan Robinson and Lisa Kelley “Adult Children of Workaholics: Self-Concept, Anxiety, Depression, and Locus of Control.” published by the American Journal of Family Therapy in 1998 shows just how much workaholic parents impact their children. The study found that children of parents who were workaholics reported having elevated levels of depression and external locus control. A person who has difficulty with external locus control is more likely to believe their fate is dependent on outside factors which are past the point of personal control. Children of workaholic fathers in particular indicated that they “not only had greater depression and external locus of control but also scored higher on anxiety” (Robinson & Kelley, 1998). Watching parents run to and fro constantly trying to get ahead has conditioned their children to exhibit the same actions and mentalities in their young adult lives. However, constantly wanting to get ahead in their careers is not the only thing college kids today are perpetually chasing.

America has undeniably become a consumerist culture tenfold, advertisements for everything under the sun infiltrate personal social media platforms so incessantly it is like the brands actually are a part of everyday life. Being unhappy with the current state of life and always looking to better circumstances is something experienced vastly by college students today. The treadmill of consumption is never ending, the next best thing is now just a click away with applications like Apple Pay which lets someone pay for things with just their iPhone, and After Pay which allows people to pay for products in small installments over time. It’s now become easier than ever to have what others have and continue the cycle of consumerism, but when does consumerism come into play regarding mental health? In a 2011 study authored by Jennifer Ann Hill called “Endangered childhoods: how consumerism is impacting child and youth identity”, Hill identifies that the constant consumerism in America today has created a generation full of people who have no self concept or identity. It makes sense, if an entire generation has the ability to look and wear things that Kendall Jenner promotes in hopes of recreating that life, are they really going to have a authentic relationship with themselves? Young people today are incessantly getting an “endless barrage of material messages encouraging purchasing behavior and consumption that impacts the self-image.”(Hill, J. 2011) Hill says that the negative effects from consumerism affects girls more heavily as they are “targeted by marketers to sell them a whole line of products they ‘need’ to emulate a feminine idea” (Hill, J. (2011). Having disconcerting views of self image and confidence play a key role in irritating anxious or self depreciatory thoughts for both sexes. It is evident that participation in the treadmill of consumption for young people has brought baggage far beyond product shipments.

Part of the reason American students experience such adverse effects from the country’s constant consumerist culture is because of America’s dedication to capitalism at any cost. To really understand where the workaholics, the consumerists, and the stigmas around mental health issues come from, the explosion of capitalism after WW2 can provide many answers. The survival and success of the United States was held to a more important degree than the mental health of those pushing America to the top. Now we are able to see the side effects from just how detrimental that idea can manifest into. This study by Jeremy Seabrook, published online in 2018 titled “The mental health of societies” tells how the United States which has impressive roots in “institutionalised permanent upheaval and change” and has always been devising a cocktail of mental health illnesses since it began it’s worldwide industrialization. Not knowing the hidden consequences this type of advancement in industrialization and globalization would bring to thousands upon thousands of its citizens for years to come. A wide array of topics have contributed a small portion to environments college kids today have grown up in. This brings some understanding to why disorders like anxiety and depression have grown to such staggering amounts countrywide. External factors like workaholic parents, a population focused toward capitalism, the constant consumerism, and safetyism rampant in society all were the building blocks to produce a cohort of stressed out college kids. However external factors aren’t the only variables coming into play when talking about anxiety and depression. Hormonal and biological statistics contribute substantially to the anxieties felt during this stage of life. This can help to explain why American students continue to report high levels of anxiety and depression while in college.

In countries like Romania and Poland, although not overtly wealthy like the U.S., have less than 1.0 percent of the population affected by an anxiety disorder. However in the United States, as many as 18.1 percent of adults in the United States, roughly around 40 million people are affected by anxiety in the United States. There are less than 20 million people who actually make up the country of Romania… So essentially, the amount of people in the United States is supreme to other countries so much so it overcasts the amounts of their entire populations. But why is the United States so affected by this disorder? It is because of all the ailments and side effects imposed by chronic stressful environments. An environment college kids know all too well, but this disorder is not exclusive to just college kids. Country wide, the suicide rate tripled and depression doubled in a 15 year period, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To enlarge the scale of mental health prevalence in America, out of over 20 million substance abusers in the United States, half reported having a co-occuring mental health issue as well as their substance use problem. It makes one think from an epidemiological perspective, what do all these people have in common other than the disorder itself? The answer is stress, and chronic stress leads to trauma. Trauma survivors often have issues with substance abuse due to their anxiety and depression associated to the traumatic event, and trauma can be defined as anything that causes torment and distress for a short or long period of time. Trauma is trauma regardless of how severe; whether it be caused by school work, business, home life, events unknown or forgotten, the human brain is receptive of everything. Gabor Maté, one of the outstanding doctors who worked for the Portland Hotel Society, a non-profit that owned an old hotel in the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver, which provided support and housing for drug addicts who had nowhere else to go. Maté wasn’t a substance abuser but he did compulsively buy CD’s for no reason other than the fact when he felt anxious he was uncontrollably compelled to the record store to browse through music for hours. Maté’s mother had him while living in a Jewish ghetto in Budapest during the war, she endured tremendous stress and trauma due to that event in her life, but music calmed her and made her feel better. Gabor feels his mothers great anguish was absorbed by him as he was her only companion during this horrifying time, and due to the experience he’s developed tendencies to cope with the great anxieties that come from his endured trauma. This goes to show that the issues and apprehensions people have mentally whether it be anxiety, depression or even something more serious, don’t always present themselves at a surface level. Generational trauma is unseen, but can be very apparent and impactful in a person’s life story. For example, the country has boasted ideals of mind numbing workloads and “progressiveness” since the world’s largest stock exchange financially exploded in NYC.  The huge bronze charging bull sculpture outside of Wall Street represents “aggressive financial optimism and prosperity”. But what this sculpture signifies to anti-capitalism supporters, is that it is simply a symbol of corporate greed and exploitation of citizens all over the world. This represents that after years and years of the capitalistic push America has had, the stupendous stress and pressures put on it’s citizens have created a generation already susceptible to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. All things we are seeing in immense quantities all across the United States.

A disease or disorder is something that impedes the ability to perform our daily duties and responsibilities, the absence of ‘ease’ in playing our roles in society. Anxiety and depression get in the way of performing everyday and relatively normal tasks. According to the 2006 American College Health Association Survey, ‘45 percent of women and 36 percent of men felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.” It’s important to keep in mind though, that these statistics are from 2006, before the social media revolution really materialized with the advancement of technology that took place in the early 2000’s. Regardless of the people being less connected than college kids in 2018, it does not deny the fact American students are abnormally anxious and depressed in comparison to other cultures. College aged people, from 18-24 is also the age range where the onset of many mental health issues resides, and it is possible with better mental health monitoring programs being implemented, that more people are being diagnosed with either anxiety or depression because the surveillance of the disorder has improved.  Nevertheless, ages 18-24 are also years in a humans life where a lot of change is occuring, creating hormonal and chemical shifts around every corner that can contribute to altered mood states as well. Hilary Silver, M.S.W., a licensed clinical social worker and mental health expert for Campus Calm. Campus Calm is an amazing organization which recognizes that young people, women especially are incredibly high achieving but undeniably overworked, and overwhelmed. Silver says “students experience many firsts, including new lifestyle, friends, roommates, exposure to new cultures and alternate ways of thinking,”, this big change of scenery can send any person’s hormones into a frenzy due to all the new and different stimuli around the student. If students feel as though they are unprepared to navigate through all these new experiences, they could be exposed to feelings of anxiety and depression trying to make reason of it all. Caffeine and excessive drinking are also two variables presented to college students in mass quantities that can influence the susceptibility of anxiety or depression. Students who feel like they don’t have the adequate skills to cope with the new stressors of college often fall victim to substance use and binge drinking heavily. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University published a report which found half of all full-time college students binge drink, use prescription or illicit drugs. An even scarier statistic is that about 1 out of every 4 college students can adhere to the criteria for a person dependent or addiction to a substance. These new environments and experiences lead to success and accomplishments, but also issues that prove to be inexcusable. When students are shot out of high school into college, a new world of stimuli awaits them demanding they either bend, or break. In , and when these unprepared kids go to college a whole new world of experiences await them. Published in 2005,  “Binge : What your college student won’t tell you : Campus life in an age of disconnection and excess.” Barrett Seaman’s purpose is to illustrate how “isolation, sexual confusion, date rape, stress, and emotional problems” all contribute to the mental health of students. These are all valid and veracious reasons that psychotherapy needs to be overtly available on campuses and even encouraged by the community. It’s conclusive, the majority of college students in this country are dealing with something internally that not many can see, but many can understand and sympathize with.

Those sympathizers are the ones implementing the life saving programs like SBHC or  School Based Health Care and support groups around the country in college campuses to aid students dealing with mental health problems. The wall that fortifies the stigma around mental health disorders often plays a direct role in how many people seek help because of them. Between 2009 and 2015, the amount of students visiting on campus counselling centers rose 30%, and there was not a surplus of kids being admitted to universities at this time. Nelly Spinger from the University of Richmond in Virginia says that “It almost seems like they’re setting you up to fail because of the sheer amount of work and amount of classes you have to take at the same time, and how you’re also expected to do so much.” (Reilly, 2018) This is a very real reality for a number of college students across the country and due to the elevated levels of student’s anxiety and depression. Universities and public colleges countrywide have been implementing adequate school based health care programs so students can seek help when they really need it. Considering how much some families and kids pay to attend college, there is reason for a demand of more accomodating services for mental health issues. Dori Hutchinson, director of services at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation says “ a lot of schools charge $68,000 a year, We should be able to figure out how to attend to their whole personhood for that kind of money.” (Reilly, 2018) Colleges all over the country have been doing just that, attending to the mental health needs of their student bodies.

 

  “Virginia Tech University has opened several satellite counseling clinics to reach students where they already spend time, stationing one above a local Starbucks and embedding others in the athletic department and graduate student center. Ohio State University added a dozen mental health clinicians during the 2016-17 academic year and has also launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to cheer them up, and contact the clinic in case of an emergency. Pennsylvania State University allocated roughly $700,000 in additional funding for counseling and psychological services in 2017, citing a “dramatic increase” in the demand for care over the past 10 years.” (Reilly, 2018)

 

Regardless of how many services there are available to students, it still doesn’t change the deeply embedded stigmas mental health disorders hold in our society. Many students are apprehensive to seek help from their universities, afraid they will have a lasting and disadvantageous label attached to them for life. Margarita Tartakovsky, a immigrant from Russia who has her masters of science in psychology says in her article “Depression and Anxiety Among College Students” that “students also might not seek help because of concerns over confidentiality and finances and the fear that accepting they’re struggling will mean they can’t lead a productive life.”(Tartakovsky, 2018)  The cost of college alone is enough to give anyone a heart attack who learned nothing about how to handle money in high school. Most kids going into college have no idea what they’re up against in terms of personal debt, and emotional turmoil during the process of getting their degree. But what is there to do about a stressor that is hardly seen as such? Social media and the constant distraction and inauthentic interaction is detrimental to students in America today.

One out of every five students on college campuses in the United States have reported symptoms of depression or anxiety. It is evident in the recent years that social media has played a direct role in influencing how anxious and depressed people become over time. Over the last 20 to thirty years with the advancement in technology, there’s no question humans have adapted to incorporate more of it into their everyday lives. When does the infiltration of technology into daily life become too much? The need for immediacy, instant answers and information have developed the young adult generation in this country into overcompensated and impatient kids. The feeling that one “needs” to be connected to social media and other technology outlets has contributed a considerable amount of added stress on students already trying to navigate these new stimuli rich environments and get their work done. It has been recorded that social media definitely can be correlated to elevated levels of depression. In an article titled “Real-life closeness of social media contacts and depressive symptoms among university students” the researchers concluded that “Having no in-person relationship with social media contacts is associated with increased depressive symptoms; however, having close in-person relationships with social media contacts is associated with decreased depressive symptoms.”(Shensa, Ariel, et al 2018) Thousands and thousands of college students are glued to their social media sites constantly and are following countless individuals unknown to them personally. The extended reach of instagram influencers and celebrity advertisements have been what has caused such an addiction to comparison that this generation has to deal with so much more than others have. Social media has been recorded as increasing symptoms of depression, depression has been recorded to then lead to social isolation and feeling isolated is one of mankind’s biggest subconscious fears. Feeling isolated from peers while simultaneously also surrounded by them can lead to further depression related symptoms, and substance abuse as we’ve seen. A study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine titled: “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.” looked closely into the social isolation caused by social media use in participants 19-24. The study monitored individuals time spent on social media and the frequency social media was being used across a number of public platforms like “Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit.”(Primack, Brian A., et al, 2014) The participants who used social media the most were then compared to those who used it the least, and the level of perceived social isolation was undeniably higher within the individuals who had the highest levels of social media usage.  Being connected in person, and forming lasting relationships that build enriching communities is how we combat this social media surge sweeping across the country and world. To bring students away from their phones is to save them a considerable amount of stress and sadness associated with social media use.

What is inevitable to bring sadness and stress to students though, is the monstrous price of college; costing kids both their tangible and emotional wealth.  The cost of some public universities can reach as high as $46,000 dollars for just one year of tuition and fees. The average cost of college annually for private institutions is $43,000, while the average for public universities is around $34,000 for out of state students according to the national College Board. These numbers are high, but in comparison to what? Comparison to the national average salary that is. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median average salary doesn’t even break $45,000 dollars a year working a regular 40 hour work week. Many people earn more, and many earn much less, but this then begs the question: Why is college for a single academic school year more than what some families bring home to pay the bills and stock the fridge for an entire year? This very question is hard to reason with as people who can afford college are not the only ones who deserve a right to high education. Outstanding student loans hit an all time high in December, 2018 where an article written by Bloomberg.com says there is $1.456 trillion dollars to be paid back to the United States government.(Tanzi, 2018) The debt is unavoidable for many who don’t have the money to afford an education but aspire to and rightfully should get one. Regardless of the fact a student may come out of college with $100,000 in outstanding student loans, the debt would be less of a problem if there were good jobs to provide these graduates adequate income to pay the loans back in a reasonable fashion. College kids are stressed and depressed over the costs and debts accumulating in college, but are also anxious about leaving school to enter the workforce. University of Pennsylvania economics professor Matthew Bidwell looked into the demand for jobs in the United States and found for many graduates they are fighting a losing battle. Bidwell uncovered that for nearly all the jobs which require high education degrees (bachelors/masters), almost all of them also require on average 2 or more years of relevant work experience in the field. (Craig, 2018) How can college graduates begin to pay off their immense loans if the jobs they are studying so hard to attain, won’t hire them because they have no ‘real work experience’ in the field? This is a frustrating aspect of the college experience which undeniably adds onto the chronic stress experienced by college students today. Whether it be student loan debt, social media distractions, lack of flexibility in the job market or all the societal implications that constructed how we feel and behave; students have their work cut out for them emotionally. It is a burden of innumerable size and unfathomable value.

The claim that American society directly connects to anxiety and depression in college students can be supported in depth through careful research within this report. It is evident that the environment students grow up in influence their perceptions on mental health and all the societal stigmas that come attached to it.  (insert data gathered here). There is no question that the prevalence of students accessing the resources that are available to them plays a key role in determining their success with combating their mental health issues. Treatment services for mental health issues need to be even more widely available than they are today, but what needs to change the most is how we as a society view mental health issues as a whole.  The massive shifts in lifestyle and all the hormonal changes that come with young adulthood are a perfect cocktail for anxiety and depression to thrive. The evidence proving these how shifts in lifestyle can inspire excessive drinking and caffeine consumption further increases the chances of university students developing depression and anxiety as well. College students naturally are attracted to excessive alcohol binging and caffeine through cultural norms. College students find it normal to stay up all night studying or drinking just the same, both incredibly unhealthy for their mental stability. Although the monumental costs of college have now developed into a cultural norm, it too has inevitably matured into a key player in students levels of anxiety and depression. Overworked and overcompensated young people can be seen as at a high risk for suicide as well as it is the second leading cause of death among college students in this country. Although many of our generation most likely view social media personalities as positive, studies have shown that excessive use of social media, especially connecting with those we have no personal connection to, can play a massive role in elevating depression and self isolation in college students. Constantly being attached to social media can lead to detachment and unhealthy formation of habits like sitting and mindlessly scrolling for hours. Addiction and withdrawal are two very real consequences of excessive social media use and can contribute to higher levels of depression in young adults. In retrospect it’s simple to make a determination about how college kids around the country are very clearly suffering from anxiety and depression due to how our society has been structured around us.

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