More than a few American college students are suffering from anxiety. One might consider it a mental health issue, but perhaps it is more.
First, imagine that it’s about mental health.
A group of students that was brought up on a steady diet of unearned praise is lost and adrift, suffering from anxiety.
The students do not know how to cope. They do not know how to focus and concentrate. They are terrified of failure, because they were never told that they were not good enough and never learned how to deal with it. They never learned how to work hard and to work effectively. They lack resilience. They are filling up the offices of campus counselors.
The New York Times has the story:
Nearly one in six college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.
The causes range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media. Anxiety has always played a role in the developmental drama of a student’s life, but now more students experience anxiety so intense and overwhelming that they are seeking professional counseling.
As students finish a college year during which these cases continued to spike, the consensus among therapists is that treating anxiety has become an enormous challenge for campus mental health centers.
Nearly one in six was diagnosed. How many more were not diagnosed?
Why is this happening? The experts offer expert explanations:
Because of escalating pressures during high school, he and other experts say, students arrive at college preloaded with stress. Accustomed to extreme parental oversight, many seem unable to steer themselves. And with parents so accessible, students have had less incentive to develop life skills.
“A lot are coming to school who don’t have the resilience of previous generations,” Dr. Jones said. “They can’t tolerate discomfort or having to struggle. A primary symptom is worrying, and they don’t have the ability to soothe themselves.”
Surely their upbringing matters, but they also live in a world where they are pressured to enjoy all aspects of the college experience fully.
Curiously, over 20% of Harvard undergraduates did not have sex during their four years at the school.
Without knowing anything more, ask yourself whether these were the overachievers or the underachievers? Did this group flock to the counseling service or were they holed up in the library? Were they the most popular kids, the kids who majored in partying?
One hesitates to blame everything on social media, but apparently the knowledge that other students are indulging in bacchanalian revelry bothers many students who are not.
The Times writes:
Social media is a gnawing, roiling constant. As students see posts about everyone else’s fabulous experiences, the inevitable comparisons erode their self-esteem. The popular term is “FOMO” — fear of missing out.
One cannot, on principle, doubt the value of the Times analysis.
And yet, ask yourself the question that any good therapist would attempt to ascertain: if a patient is anxious, there might be a real reason for it.
Could it be that these students are not optimistic about their future because they have very little reason for optimism? Do they understand that America is in decline? Do they know that they are not being prepared to compete against their counterparts in other parts of the world?
Unless the world is about to redefine competition to give extra credit for decadence, that is.
Beyond that, are these students proud of their country? Are they proud to belong to this country?
If the nation’s heroes are forgotten while we obsess about its villains, if its proudest achievements are diminished by an obsessive emphasis on the bad, children will not be allowed to feel pride in their country and pride in themselves.
Students who have been brought up on a steady diet of criticism, who have learned to be anguished about all of the ills America is visiting on its citizens and the world, will very likely feel demoralized.
Students who learn in school and in the media that America is a bad country, filled with people who harbor the worst criminal intentions—like racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, lookism, ageism—are not going to feel very much pride, in their country or in themselves. And they are not going to feel very optimistic about the future.
If that is the problem, then anxiety is the correct emotional response.