- Education & Catastrophe
- Young People Are Anxious When They Should be Flourishing
Young People Are Anxious When They Should be Flourishing
Education & Catastrophe 54
Image credit: Khoa Vo
I’ve been spending a lot of time this week thinking about anxiety versus flourishing after a conversation with a second year student from one of the most prestigious junior colleges in Singapore. Alexandra (not her real name) told me many of her friends are on Xanax and she has had to pull a friend off the railings. The level of anxiety her peers are facing is off the charts, largely because of parents’, teachers’ and school’s expectation, but most of all, because of their own expectations of themselves.
Junior college certainly wasn’t a walk in the park twenty odd years ago when I was doing my A levels, but I don’t recall witnessing the level of anxiety Alexandra is describing. The mental health crisis amongst young adults has become a pressing issue in western societies. With a rise in depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders, it has become a cause for concern for parents, educators, and policymakers alike. The reasons for this crisis are multifaceted, ranging from societal pressures to a lack of access to mental health services.
Societal pressures are often cited as one of the reasons for this crisis. Young adults are facing immense pressure to succeed academically, professionally, and socially. Social media has made it easier for them to compare themselves with others, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. This pressure can lead to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
In Asian societies, there is still a stigma around mental health issues. While young people in Singapore are a lot more open talking to their friends about their anxiety, one mental health professional told me young adults are still reluctant to let their parents know about the state of their mental health. A doctor friend who works in A&E told me he regularly sees young adult patients who go to A&E because they don’t know where else to turn to for help with their mental state.
The lack of access to mental health services exacerbates the problem. Young people who are not able to receive timely care resort to self-harm, and increasingly, attempted suicides. The statistics are alarming. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year, with young adults aged 18-25 being the most affected. Depression rates have increased by 50% among young adults in the last decade, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-24. These numbers paint a bleak picture of the current mental health crisis amongst young adults. I am not able to find the statistics for Singapore, but I will not be surprised if the numbers are similar.
Anxiety and depression are at one end of the spectrum of the human condition. At the other end the spectrum is not happiness. It’s flourishing. Flourishing refers to a state of optimal wellbeing and development in which young people can reach their full potential and live fulfilling lives. Flourishing is more than just happiness; it involves actively pursuing meaning and purpose in life.
To help young adults flourish, we need to understand what factors contribute to their wellbeing. Social support is one. Young adults need to feel connected to others and have healthy relationships with friends, family, and members of the community. This social support can provide a sense of belonging and promote positive emotions, leading to increased resilience and better mental health.
Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life is also key. Young adults need to have a clear understanding of their values, goals, and aspirations, and be able to pursue them with passion and enthusiasm. This sense of purpose can provide motivation and direction in life, leading to greater happiness and satisfaction.
From my conversation with Alexandra, it is clear to me that she is dissatisfied with traditional modes of learning which feels disconnected with real world issues. She believes education should encompass all aspects of life.
True growth and learning are not confined to school. It’s quite pointless to sit in the classroom all day just to take exams. The education system in Singapore has lost how to mould students to lead in the future. It’s quite sad we've not changed from my parents' education.
Discovery should be the means and the end of the learning process.
I am interested in designing a programme that helps young people cope with anxiety and lets them flourish. I have no idea what this programme will look like. Maybe it needs to be a product that addresses mental health issues, with the flourishing programme layered on top. Maybe the programme itself can be a solution to the mental health crisis. I really don’t know.
All I know is that young people need help. We should give them all the help they need.
If you’re interested in or have expertise in this space, please reach out.
If you enjoyed this week’s issue, you may want to check out issue 27 of Education & Catastrophe ‘Young, Restless And A Little Lost’.
Till the next issue!