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Do young people today have more mental health issues than they did during the Great Depression?

According to a new study featured in The Oregonian, five times as many young people suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues as those of the same age during the Great Depression. We asked two of our young writers what they think about these findings.

After reading the Oregonian article, I wanted to do more research to see what I could find out about the Great Depression and mental illness. What I did learn was, during the Great Depression, people were out of work and had little money. Surviving was difficult, causing anxiety and stress to families. As for their kids, they might not have understood what was going on because they were too young. Depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder and other mental health conditions were not understood and discussed during the 1920s the way they are today. Therefore, even though those conditions might have existed, they were not necessarily identified as problems or types of medical conditions. So, no treatments were available. Families during the Great Depression kept busy by focusing on where their next meal would come from, helping others, and asking door to door to work for their basic essentials, and for food for their bellies. All family members had to work for help. If you look at our family structures today, most kids have less responsibility and more free time. They communicate on Facebook, use a cell phone, and watch TV. I believe in some ways this causes a different kind of stress. Kids want to look like models and be popular. They aren’t as interested in having a job and the family structure seems weaker, because they don’t have to work as hard as a “team” to get by. If you look at how mental illness is seen today, we have more types that are recognized than before. And more is known about mental illness. I think people with mental health conditions also have more help now than during the Great Depression, with the development of psychology, psychiatry, and other types of health professions. This provides more support for people today but makes mental health a bigger deal and issue.

It really depends on where you’re coming from, as in your community and social class. I know the upperclass has it pretty good whereas the lower and middleclass are struggling at the moment because of the “Great Depression II” (it feels like we’re going through a second one, huh?). Anxiety is at a great level due to an enormous shortage of jobs. Kids cannot eat as much as they used to and government financial assistance is now the only means of support for those who are players in the stock market. Mental health during a time of financial and environmental chaos is going down like our stocks. I believe young people tend to bear the brunt of the emotional baggage adults carry around with them. A child is just a child, but when affected by things beyond his control, his trust in a normal life is shaken. Children become anxious, impatient and short-tempered, especially when their parents are not calm. I know mental illnesses are not developed out of nothing. In other words there has to be something genetic to start with. Although, in times like these depression and constant anxiety combined with impatience is what makes it challenging for all people to function well. They don’t know who to trust or where to turn to for support. It’s helplessness or victimization is what it is. I feel it won’t be long before they let the demolished economy ruin their optimism. Children and college students who don’t have mental health conditions do not have to worry about the kinds of things people with a panic disorder or anxiety disorder do. Now, I feel some are getting a taste of what real anxiety is like. My concern is how bad it will get if someone doesn’t stop to look at possible outcomes of this dark period. If a family survives what will their minds be like? Will they stop worrying? I highly doubt it because for the first time in their life they are having pure anxiety over things beyond their control. Normally, people don’t worry about the economy because it was a no-brainer that we, the world’s richest nation, will never perish like a poor prehistoric civilization. Now, they are worrying about the inevitable. Well...there’s also the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012. I hope no one will buy into it. We may be a broken, battered nation but we will survive. That’s my take on the situation.

What do YOU think?

bullet I agree that mental health conditions were probably underdiagnosed at the time of the Depression. I also agree that we now have a society that creates a lot of pressure on the individual to sink or swim, and that has fewer places for people who don't fit in. Other countries with vastly lower average incomes than ours, actually have much better outcomes for people with schizophrenia, for example, and it seems this is because the culture is more accepting of this sort of difference. Posted Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 06:47 PM

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