“You’re young. You’re resilient. You have youth – you have the world.”
“You’re in the prime of your life.”
“You’ve got a lot of life ahead of you.”
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
YES, we have our lives ahead of us, we probably have a lot more to see, and we ARE in the prime of our lives! The above phrases are both SO TRUE and SO STEREOTYPICAL. But if you’re a young professional or young adult, these phrases are almost definitely unappreciated. We can feel belittled, demeaned, and misunderstood. Many of us feel that “experienced adults” don’t believe in our ability to understand real hardship or that we experience mental health struggles.
This article is about us – young adults ages 18 to 35. It’s about the raw statistics of our age group facing the mental health crisis. It’s also about breaking free from the trends to live the abundant lives within our power to achieve, despite a world so against mental health success.
“We live in a society with certain pressures and expectations our parents didn’t have to face”
Although young adults have both most of their lives and their youth ahead of them, they actually face the highest prevalence of any mental illnesses compared to every other age group. One in five 18- to 25-year-old experiences mental illness. [i] Young adults have the highest prevalence of serious mental health disorders yet receive the least amount of mental health services each year. [i] Cultural trends are changing with the rise of social media and electronic communication, which may be a driver in the significant increase in sleep deprivation, mood disorders, and suicide-related outcomes. [ii, iii]
Information and culture are changing, placing expectations and responsibility on young people differently than past generations. In many ways, it’s no surprise that mental health among young adults is suffering more than any other age group.
I asked young adults for advice they had been given which, when followed, helped them realize their own burnout/mental health struggles and experience life again. I encourage you to challenge yourself with the following strategies to combat burnout, even if you are not currently experiencing any adverse mental health repercussions.
As young adults, we are constantly fighting a battle between protecting our reputation and being authentic. We admire people who are open, honest, and vulnerable, but it can be hard to grow these character traits in ourselves. Maybe we have opened up too soon or shared too much, and have experienced losing the respect of others. As a result, we have developed a mastery of covering up our lives, afraid of being found out for who we are or losing face and respect from our peers and employers alike. We go to great lengths and personal anguish to cover up the brokenness we feel inside. Stop kidding yourself that you don’t do this. Self-protection is willing to take on intense personal anxiety and fear, turns us into anti-social shells of who we once were, and robs us of the joy of being known. This is a cycle of negative thought processes that feeds directly into anxiety, depression, panic, and social anxiety. Those are mental health disorders and are crippling both personally and relationally. But we don’t have to stay this way. Recognizing distorted thinking and core beliefs in why we hide who we are is one step in recovery (we may need professional help to overcome these things). But learning to be authentic – real, genuine, yourself – and beginning to break the chains of distorted thinking is a huge part of dealing with the unrest you feel. Start with the safe people directly around you, seeking to be authentic and intentional with your relationships. Practice your corrected thinking with them as you build your confidence up that YOU are an amazing person and don’t have to live by the preconceived ideas of what you think you must be in order to be viewed as perfect and approved by society.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You don’t have to have all the answers. All you need is to realize that something isn’t right and be willing to find out more. Find a trusted person to talk to: parent, healthcare professional, a friend.
As young people, we know it can be hard to talk with family or even your closest friends. However, you have to find someone to talk to. Years of bottled up silence is NOT helping you live the life you deserve. Sharing with trusted, safe individuals is an important part of processing, but sharing with someone experienced or qualified to point you in the direction of healing and recovery is imperative. Identify a safe person in your life.
Delegating responsibility can be really hard when we want to do a good job and make sure quality is maintained. However, learning to let others work on tasks for us can relieve an incredible amount of stress by letting go. As hard as it is, practice delegating by choosing one area in your life right now that you can delegate to others. You may even need to set boundaries with your family.
“Learn to say no even to ‘good’ things in order to make time for ‘better’ things”
You’re not the only one that can fulfill a position at work, church, or in your social sphere. Practice saying no – implementing healthy boundaries. Learn to say no even to “good” things in order to make time for “better” things. No matter how gifted you are in serving your positions, you are not indispensable. You can and should say no at times. It’s a small word but SO hard to say. Often, we think we need to say it in some tactful, careful way so we never get around to saying it. Don’t wait for the perfect words if you are compromising what’s best for you mentally and emotionally. Begin practicing no. You’ll become more graceful and gain confidence with practice. Remember, you are the controller of your future. Don’t let people-pleasing dictate your agony by taking something on that you cannot afford to do. We can stand to be uncomfortable, but there is a difference between doing something we don’t enjoy but should do and doing something we enjoy but cannot take on. Say no.
Are you giving more than you are receiving?
You don’t have to feel guilty about taking time out of your schedule to do something YOU enjoy. In fact, if you want to reap the full benefit of a mentally healthful life, taking time to enjoy a healthy, fun, and relaxing activity is imperative. You need a mental break from the demands surrounding you. Put away your laptop and silence your cell phone. Dive into a new book, hit the river on a paddle board, pick up a ball of yarn and crochet hook, create a new recipe, or grab your binoculars for some birding. Uncover a new hobby or reignite your love of a pastime. Get out of your day-to-day routine and bask in quality you time.
Being successful at work or school at the expense of your family and/or personal life is not worth the cost. Learning how to balance work, school, family, and personal life in a complimentary way is a task that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But by recognizing our need for change and being willing to sacrifice being in control for our best interest mentally, we can begin to learn healthier stress coping mechanisms and boost our personal lives. We are not infallible as young adults. We have proven ourselves even more at risk mentally than any other age group on the planet. We require attention to our mental health and wellbeing, and it is within our power to take that care. Depression, anxiety, stress, low self-worth, and burnout don’t have to characterize us.
It’s true we live in a society with certain pressures and expectations our parents didn’t have to face. But despite the added challenge of seeking our professional careers and raising our young families in the face of these obstacles, there are tried and true tools at our disposal to turn the rugged ups and downs into a journey worth living and encouraging others with.
Taking the time to evaluate your life is the most basic step. It’s also the hardest. As young professionals, we are busy with studies or careers. We don’t have free time to sit down and do “nothing”. But, unless we take the time NOW to evaluate where we are in our lives, we easily begin adding our names to the somber statistics surrounding our generation.
“Do you feel peace and contentment?”
My request is for you to evaluate your life. Ask yourself if you are happy. Do you feel peace and contentment? If you feel any hesitancy or deep down inside know that something has to give, please evaluate what you are doing right now. How well is it working? Is being busy, successful financially, and accomplishing outward greatness helping you personally be your happiest?
If you answer, “No, I’m not living my happiest life right now,” scroll back up and look at what our peers are doing to combat negative mental health repercussions. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it provides a place to start. You can modify your lifestyle and diet (check out Optimize Your Brain for more details), but changing your mindset is huge. Learn the 10 cognitive distortions and discover how cognitive behavioral therapy can change how you view yourself.
Young adults, we have a full life ahead of us. Not the life our parents or professors dictate, but a life where we can choose to be happy. Each day we wake up each day with a choice. I encourage you to take the time to choose wisely what kind of person you will be.
Together we can end the silence surrounding the daily struggles we each face. Seek help, seek freedom, but most importantly, seek truth. We can break the chains of our generation and the curses of circumstances. And no earthly career or financial gain can replace living a mentally healthy life. Seek the truth surrounding optimal mental health.
For truly, the truth will set us free.
Please contact us first before publishing this or other Let’s Talk Mental Health articles.
[i] Mental Illness. (n.d.). NIMH. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
[ii] Rosenberg, J. (2019). Mental Health Issues On the Rise Among Adolescents, Young Adults. Retrieved from https://www.ajmc.com/focus-of-the-week/mental-health-issues-on-the-rise-among-adolescents-young-adults
[iii] Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005-2017.