In November of 2016 Time Magazine published an article entitled "Anxiety, Depression, and the Modern Adolescent." The article starts by describing the youth as “…the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”
It’s a sobering look at the realities the youth face and things they do, some of which are self destructive, to cope with their anxiety or depression.
"In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening, since many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. It’s also hard to quantify behaviors related to depression and anxiety, like nonsuicidal self-harm, because they are deliberately secretive."
6.3 million is an alarming number, and even scarier to think that the number is higher since so much of this is hidden from parents and friends. During a presentation of one of our youth’s social impact project, he asked his peers if they knew friends who have or are dealing with depression, and at least two-thirds of the students raised their hands.
Fortunately, there are a lot of studies and research being done about mental health and why depression and anxiety is so prevalent amongst teens. Treating mental health issues isn’t something that we are equipped or tasked to do, but we have found in our research that one cause of anxiety and depression has to do with whether or not youth have found a purpose for their lives, "a strong level of internal motivation." as said in the Time’s article.
Kendall Bronk, a researcher at Claremont Graduate University who studies how purpose impacts wellbeing, said that only one in five high schoolers have found their purpose in life, and in college it’s about one in three. However, * "…among adolescents and emerging adults—meaning 18-25 year olds—we found that the search for purpose was associated with wellbeing."*
Giving them the space and time to figure out what their purpose is and what they are passionate about, is so important. We can’t expect all of them to know exactly what they want to do, but allowing them to go through that process matter so much more than the result.
When asked about how we can foster purpose in the youth and Bronk said that just having a 45 minute conversation with them and "…having kids talk about the things that matter in their lives significantly increased their reporting of purpose."
We’ve said before that purpose can be broken down into these components:
"It’s important that young people think about what they enjoy doing, what they really care about. Peter Benson called these "sparks," and just about all young people can identify their sparks. The next thing you have to help them identify is what they value—what bothers or upsets them about the world today, what they really like, what they could see improving upon—and then bringing that together by asking them, “How can you use your personal skills or strengths for addressing these problems?”
Finding the answers to these questions and supporting them to find these answers is a task that our foundation can do for our youth.
This conviction of helping teens start thinking about and finding their purpose has been informing so much of thinking as we think about how to carry out KAYF’s mission. Allowing our youth to feel empowered to explore and express their interests is so important because it won’t just give them a great experience while being a part of KAYF, but because it can have an impact years after they leave KAYF.
As we think about what it means to be leaders and what it means to be successful, we have to allow the youth to find that for themselves and feel supported by us to pursue that passion.
"Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself."
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning