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IBX Insights

An Anxious Generation: Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

A depressed young womman lays her head on her desk

Adults with jobs and family responsibilities may long for the carefree days of youth, but studies show that today’s young adults have plenty of worries of their own.

According to a University of California, San Francisco study of 2,809 young adults ages 18 to 25 nearly half (48 percent) reported symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Among those with symptoms, 39 percent reported using prescription medications and/or receiving counseling, and 36 percent reported unmet counseling needs.

Separating from one’s parents and leaving home have always been anxiety-provoking experiences, but today’s young people have less privacy as they make these major transitions, learning and growing under the unforgiving eye of peers and even strangers on social media.

“It’s expected that adolescents test their social interactions,” says Dario V. LaRocca, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and Independence Blue Cross Behavioral Health Medical Director. “Traditionally, it would be in a dorm with people you know. But with social media, you never really know who you’re talking to or where they’re coming from. Without body language or social cues, it’s easy to make a mistake that gets picked up and amplified,” says Dr. LaRocca, who is also the father of three daughters, ages 20 to 31.

Online Pressures

Having a presence on social media often forces people to pretend to be someone they’re not. Faith Attig, 21, a student at Penn State University’s Abington campus and an intern in Independence’s Corporate Communications department says, “There’s pressure to create a brand — to be somebody and to be perfect online even when you’re not.” At the same time, “there’s pressure to be authentic, because people are so quick to judge and call you out.”

As a result, “a lot of my generation likes to disappear [digitally],” Attig says. “We don’t like people to know where we are. Life gets to be too much.”

But social media is just one part of the conversation about rising rates of anxiety in teens and young adults. Researchers and social critics have proposed other potential contributors, from economic and environmental uncertainty and overprotective parents to poor diets and sedentary lifestyles.

Anxiety today is more prone to push people to isolate, LaRocca says, a trend that has been amplified by the pandemic. Fortunately, there is less stigma around depression and anxiety with this generation. “I’m surprised by how quickly people are ready to acknowledge it [mental health issues],” he says.

Ways to Cope

One important way to cope with anxiety and depression is to take a break from social media and create a life outside of the internet, Dr. LaRocca says. “Find friends you can talk to offline, whom you can trust. And if you feel overwhelmed, meet with a professional, ideally in person. Talk to people of different generations in person to get a different perspective.” You can keep in touch online, Dr. LaRocca says, “but being with people in person is still important, and can help reduce anxiety by reducing isolation.”

Other coping mechanisms include:

If You Need Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK, (8255) or call or text the new 988.

For more information about depression, self-care strategies and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

IBX Insights Team

About IBX Insights Team

The IBX Insights Team is here to provide tips on using your health insurance and living a healthy life.