OUR CURRENT STATE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH, AT A GLANCE
So, what's the current state of our psychological health?
Let's take a look.
A few key measures can paint a relatively clear picture.
General Mental Health
Deaths of Despair
Hopefully a few visual illustrations can give us a fairly clear view of how we're doing along these lines.
General Mental Health
According to the University of Michigan’s Healthy Minds Study,
more than 60 percent of college students met the criteria for at least one mental-health problem
— a nearly 50 percent increase since 2013.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among high school-aged youths aged 14-18 years,
accounting for approximately one fifth of deaths (18.6%) of this age group...
Approximately one third (30%) of female students in 2021 reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide
during the 12 months before the survey, a substantial increase compared with 2019 (24.1%).
Approximately one fourth (23.6%) of female students in 2021 reported making a suicide plan.
The rate was approximately over one in seven for males (13.3% in 2019, 14.3% in 2021).
(Source: CDC, Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2021 | Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/su/su7201a6.htm?s_cid=su7201a6_w)
Deaths of Despair
Jeremy Adams, a high school and college teacher, wrote this:
“…when teachers get together, they often share an arresting conclusion: Something has gone terribly wrong. Something essential is missing in our young people.
Their curiosity seems stunted, their reason undeveloped, their values uninformed, their knowledge lacking, and most worrying of all, their humanity diminished.
Digital hermits of a sort unfamiliar to an older generation, they have little interest in marriage and family. They largely dismiss—and are shockingly ignorant of—religion. They sneer at patriotism, sympathize with riots and vandalism, and regard American society and civilization as so radically flawed that it must be dismantled. Often friendless and depressed, they eat alone, study alone, and even “socialize” alone.
- from Hollowed Out: A Warning About America's Next Generation
Sources and Resources
The images above, as well as a deeper dive into the topics, can be found in titles such as The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt, iGen and Generations by Jean Twenge, Hollowed Out by Jeremy Adams, The Dumbest Generation and The Dumbest Generation Grows Up by Mark Bauerlein, Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, and others.
For anyone considering permanent solutions to temporary problems, The National Suicide Prevention Hotline provides 24/7, free and confidential support at 1-800-273-8255 or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.
So, now what?
Clearly, things aren't going well.
The brief summary above could have easily been much longer. Dozens or hundreds of additional charts could have been included that all would have continued telling the same basic story. That story, in a nutshell, is that things have gone downhill over the past several decades, and as of late 2023, they're still trending in the same direction. We've experienced decades of widespread psychological deterioration.
The above presents an obvious problem and a challenge.
What's going on?
Well, realizing that there's a problem is a critical first step.
From that point, it becomes important to understand the problem clearly.
Beyond that, the question is, "What can we do about it?"
Solving this has been part of LiveReal's mission for years now.
Our digging has uncovered a few potential suggestions.
Of course, the field of psychology itself can sometimes drive us a little crazy. But that said, upgrading and refining our maps can help us navigate it more skillfully.
In other words, all psychological approaches and therapies depend on a model of human nature. Every model of human nature is further based on a certain worldview or life philosophy, or answers we give to the Big Questions of life or the "existential riddles" we all face. Exploring this can help us clarify our fundamental worldview or life philosophy, test it, and make it sturdier. The more sturdy it is, the less likely it is to collapse into an existential crisis, and the more likely it is to withstand the slings and arrows life inevitably throws at it. From there, we can build from a solid model of psychological health (however we might measure it), harden up our psychological and philosophical defenses, and clarify our game plans for life and "happiness." In short: we can get ourselves in shape, or strengthen our hearts and minds.
But we also can't ignore the greater context all of this occurs in.
For example, if we live in a culture of nihilism, or if we're living through The Death of God that Nietzsche tried to warn us about, and if this really manifests in many concrete and practical ways (including the potential for societal collapse), then there might be a sense of meaninglessness, angst, an overall "loss of myth" or disenchantment that seems to surround us. That would be something we'd need to address.
Clearly, many of these problems are complex and interconnected.
In other words, they're "Everything Problems." Everything Problems require "Everything Solutions." Instead of wishing for simple, immediate, and effortless fixes that eventually prove ineffective, we could look more in the direction of an overall approach like "existential fitness."
And that said, if we're looking for mental clarity and emotional strength - healthy minds and hearts - then we'll have to look deeper than conventional psychology. If there's a component of human nature that conventional study-driven psychology doesn't reach, that might just be a critical piece of the puzzle.
Eventually, it can become a philosophical and spiritual matter.
But of course, for some, spirituality can seem like another Big Problem itself. "Organized religion" can often serve as an effective recruitment tool for atheism, even though modern spirituality itself can be a strange, confusing, and hazardous ride even for those who go it alone. While everyone is religious in a sense and it's impossible not to be religious (depending on how you define "religion"), clear, no-nonsense, thorough and rigorous thinking in these areas can sometimes be in short supply. And it's understandable, after all. These topics can be a tad sensitive.
But if there's really is a culture of nihilism (or mythless, Death-of-God disenchantment) to overcome, then every band-aid social, educational, political, or cultural solution will fail to reach far enough. The only effective alternative, then, would have to look something like a Spiritual Renaissance.
But that kind of thing, when it's genuine, isn't easily the stuff of mass movements. Just the opposite, in fact: it points each of us right back to ourselves. It means each of us potentially doing the inner work it takes to "Know Thyself," and to become better philosophers, mystics, and contemplatives. It ultimately points in the direction of the transformation of the human being in a way that's seamlessly aligned with human nature and the Bigger Picture.
Charting a course like this could help us navigate more in the direction of genuine psychological health.
If what we've been doing hasn't been working, maybe it's time for a course-correction.