Why are young people so depressed and anxious?

Young people seem to be struggling with anxiety and depression. What are the reasons? Are the ways to help "cure" or manage this? Jonathan Hsu looks at some Biblical cause and response.

Why are young people so depressed and anxious?

If I was a sociologist, I might say that “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness” (Jean Twenge, 2017). But I’m not a sociologist.

If I had a critical racial perspective, I might say that “structural racism and cumulative trauma can be fundamental drivers of the intergenerational transmission of depression” (Hankerson et al, 2022), especially among racialized populations. But I’m not an advocate of critical race theory.

If I was an aspiring comedian, I might say that “Real depression is being sad when everything in your life is going right” (Kevin Breel, 2013). I’m not a comedian though. Unless you count dad jokes, in which case…well, I’m a dad.

And I’m certainly not a doctor, but if I was, I might not look at the causes of depression, but rather prescribe medication to counteract its effects.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ and a pastor within His church. Scripture tells me to, “not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3), and so with that in mind, let me offer some humble reflections.

Before I start, if you think you’re experiencing severe clinical depression or anxiety, please see your doctor. Medication to help manage our symptoms can be one way God answers prayer.

My First thought is Love:

Let me begin by saying, there is no judgment. Depression and anxiety are terrible things, and those experiencing it are not necessarily doing anything ‘wrong’ (though they might be, just like any person might be). I and other close family members have experienced depression and anxiety, and so my first thought is love and concern for the person fighting depression or anxiety.

Depression or anxiety is not a sign that you are not a Christian, or that you have lost your faith. In even searching for and reading this post, you are seeking after Christ and what He might have to say to your struggles. That’s not the sign of a lost faith, but rather of a growing one, as you journey through your dark night of the soul.

As Christians, our first and ongoing framework should always be authentic unconditional love. Jesus says that ‘all the Law and Prophets (meaning the Old Testament) hang on’ the commandments to love God, and from that, to love our neighbour (Matthew 22:40). If all the Old Testament ‘hangs’ on love, then how much more the New Testament?

By this, all men will know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

So my first thought is love. Love for the person(s) battling depression and anxiety. Love for their friends and family struggling alongside them, not always understanding what they are going through. Love, always love; first, last, and always.

The Unending Bleeping

Like a beachside picnic surrounded by squawking seagulls, we are constantly chased by electronic bleeps, bings, and boings, each crying out for immediate attention!

As I read the medical and psychological literature, it’s clear that we don’t know the causes of depression or anxiety; "It's not known exactly what causes depression."(Mayo Clinic)

We can identify some related factors though. One of these may be the constant and unending cries of our electronic babies. It’s hard to turn off or get rest when we are attuned to instantly respond to the bells and bleeps.

One of the critiques of social media is that it now accompanies us everywhere. I recall an ad for a local internet provider. They showed a woman going up to cottage country. After a long drive, she was surrounded by forest. Shades of green, brown, and blue wrapped around her. She took off her shoes and sat out on her patio overlooking a beautiful blue lake... and pulled out her laptop!?!?

The tagline was something like, “Now you can connect everywhere.”

I don’t know about you, but when I head up to the countryside, I DON’T want to be connected to the internet or my phone; I’m there to find some quiet space away from work, and the internet's constant beeps, blings, and boings.

It’s partially the non-stop, 24-7 Pavlovian[1]training that makes social media so pernicious.

Yet thousands of years before there was even the idea of the internet, God instructed us, “You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest” (Exodus 34:21), and Jesus explained that this, “Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27) meaning that God did not ‘need’ a Sabbath, but created it for the benefit of man.

One could even say, it was out of love for man.

There’s that word love again. Love, always love; first, last, and always.

One day each week, take a Sabbath rest: a day acceptable to the Lord.

Turn off the phones and devices that day.

Even if you can’t get into the countryside and sit beside a crystal blue lake... get into a quiet space, and wean yourself from the bleeping voices.

Learn that the world will not end when you ignore bleeps for a day. That even during plowing time and harvest we can rest... and trust God.

A World Full of Toxic Comments

I think I’m getting old. Things seem different today. Ruder. More vulgar. Less gentle.

Whether those voices are in the media, with politicians calling each other names, or on the internet, with ‘good people’ calling others names, it all adds up.

I don’t want to join the attacking or critiquing of other people. As the Bible teaches, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing” (1 Peter 3:9), or as Romans phrases it, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Yet how do we counteract those voices?

Listen to loving voices.

To counter the negative, toxic voices, read your Bible, especially the Psalms. Hear a voice of love, from first to last. A voice of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...

[1] relating to the ‘Classical Conditioning’ work of Ivan Pavlov, the experimental neurologist who trained dogs to salivate in response to bells