I was simply checking email recently when I saw a link to an article on anxiety and depression amongst college students. Statistics were thrown out that made me click the link - namely:
Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by about 30% on average, while enrollment grew by less than 6%... In spring 2017, nearly 40% of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function…
The article is over at Time.com and is entitled (is it even a title?) 'Record Numbers of College Students are Seeking Treatment for Depression and Anxiety - But Schools Can't Keep Up.'
If you click on the link and read the article, be prepared for some major distraction from the constant videos and ads that pop up. Is it me, or is anyone making the connection between this constant barrage of information, sales pitches and data coming at us and the anxiety one might feel from just reading an article? It is difficult (nearly impossible) to focus on the article itself with the Kroger ads popping up every few seconds or each time I scroll down.
I'll move along.
The article is all about the influx of students seeking mental health treatment (primarily counseling) at colleges and universities throughout North America (US/Canada in this article). Counselors are reporting waves of "...texts and phone calls from students who struggle with the transition to college life." Students are skipping classes, having anxiety attacks and dropping out of college entirely from the 'pressure cooker' situation they find themselves in, often trying to juggle academics, sports and social lives with at least one eye laser-focused on the future (i.e. medical school, law school, post-college life in general).
The article is interesting and worth the read, but here is where I'm baffled:
In the sidebar, Time.com lists other popular articles to read. One of them is entitled, "The Internet is Freaking Out Over Taylor Swift's Song," and the other one that caught my eye reads, "The Perfect Body, According to Men."
Readers: What the what?!?!?
It's like two worlds are colliding here - and is it me, or are people failing to connect the dots? Maybe we'd be less anxious and depressed and overwhelmed if, at every turn, we weren't being faced with images of a woman's body with tags like: Megan Fox's Face & Kim Kardashian's Breasts.
To be fair, the article (I use that term loosely), also 'reports' on the commodification of men's bodies, but let's not be fooled. They didn't run the article with the tag: The Perfect Body, According to Women.
It makes me sad that we are still talking about 'ideal' bodies and what size breasts a woman should have to appeal to a man. It seems ironic to be doing it alongside an article in which we learn that college counseling centers can't keep up with waitlists, and counselors have to be 'embedded' in dorms.
While I realize body image anxiety isn't the root of all mental health issues, I do think it speaks to a greater issue, that of comparisons, keeping up and the feeling that we've got to have/be it all.
This article out of Australia speaks directly to the feeling women have of needing to keep up. Writer Sophie Haslett asks readers: Are you feeling the pressure to live a perfect life?
As I run I listen to a podcast, an episode of Serial or something equally zeitgeisty that I can discuss at work to prove how in touch with pop culture and current affairs I am, before I arrive back at my apartment to shower, eat a nutritious, Insta-worthy breakfast (#cleanliving #blessed), browse the papers and listen to the radio.
I think young people, men and women, pick up on the cues society is giving that we must all be whip-smart, ultra-achieving do-gooders with the face of David Beckham and the abs of Gwyneth Paltrow.
Though, I suppose if there's an upside to that image it's that neither David Beckham nor Gwyneth Paltrow is under 21. :)
But the whole thing got me thinking and researching. I found this article over at Anxiety.org with the headline: Multiple anxiety disorders share an elevated concern over physical appearance.
The gist of the article is that people with OCD, SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder) and PD (Panic Disorder) all share anxiety over appearance and are more likely to have BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder), an anxiety disorder related to obsessively worrying/thinking about one's appearance, particularly an 'imagined or slight defect in one's appearance' (Anxiety & Depression Association of America). In short, people with obsessive disorders like BDD spend a lot of time in front of the mirror obsessing, analyzing and worrying about their appearance and 'flaws.'
This got me thinking about social media and whether or not the lives we display on social media are similar to our own physical appearance.
Is social media just another mirror? And if it is, when we perceive a 'flaw' or imperfection (less tidy house, less toned arms, less obedient children, less hunky husband, shorter stack of must-read books, etc.), do we begin to have LDD - Life Dysmorphic Disorder? Are the images we post on social media akin to the reflection we see in the mirror, and is the comparison of ourselves to distorted and photoshopped images of others creating, fostering or feeding anxiety and depression?
Are FOMO, compare/contrast and a general over-focus on our appearance (whether it's our bodies or the way our lives appear in general), causing anxiety, worry, restlessness and depression? I think we all know the answer here is yes - regardless of data, correlation, causation or anything else.
Like many people, I'm tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater here and ban all social media from the lives of myself and our family, but I think that's not just an over-reaction but also an over-simplification. If I learned anything working in Washington DC on human development issues, I learned that there is never one answer, on pill, one program to solve it all. The answer is always 'multi-pronged.'
Perhaps the first prong, the start, is for news sites to stop 'reporting' on things like the ideal woman's breast size.....according to anyone.
Does anyone else find the media ironic and paradoxical in its message that we should all love ourselves, flaws and all, but that we should be doing all this loving with rock-hard abs, children who speak multiple languages and our own signature cocktail recipe in hand?
Happy Tuesday.....for anyone not in North Carolina. For those of you sharing with me this godforsaken weather....chins up. It's supposed to snows tomorrow!