It was the summer of girl power, a tour de force by a glittering troika. With pink dream houses, songs and sequins, Barbie, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé boosted the economy and boosted women’s confidence.
So I was saddened as I talked to friends dropping their daughters off at college, hearing about the rampant anxiety, campuses flooded with SSRIs, the serotonin boosts found in drugs like Prozac and Lexapro, and the long waits for therapy.
It’s a hot topic among mothers: daughters struggling with anxiety or the effects of anxiolytics, which can include weight gain and loss of libido. Many young college girls are oscillating between anxiety without pills and numbness and body insecurity with them.
These young women seem to have it all, yet are unable to fully enjoy a period of their lives that should be filled with adventure and promise.
Going back to school has always been a moment of enthusiasm about the future, new notebooks, new materials, reflected a friend, mother of a teenage daughter. But it seems that people are fading into sadness. Everyone is looking for a psychiatrist instead of a sharpened pencil.
Billie Eilish’s song in the Barbie movie, What Was I Made For?, became the anthem of anxious and depressed young women, in part because Eilish was open about her struggles between the ages of 12 and 16, her suicidal thoughts, self-mutilation and body dysmorphia.
On the surface, the lyrics are about a doll turning into a human, but Eilish, 21, says they also reflect her own agonizing journey.
I used to float, now I just fall /
I used to know, but I’m not sure now /
What I was made for. … /
I don’t know how to feel/
But someday, I might. … /
When did it end? All the fun /
I’m sad again, don’t tell my boyfriend /
That’s not what he was made for. /
Teen desperation has been widely analyzed in recent years: the damage wrought by social media, the micro-targeting algorithms that ignite envy and conflict, and divisive politics, the endless school shootings, the Covid hijacking, a planet devoured by flames and floods, never enough achievement and a consumer culture, anxious adults creating an edgy atmosphere, a society that is digitally connected but emotionally disjointed and spiritually disengaged.
Young people are receiving a lot of alarming information, and because of digital devices, they, like many of us, receive information all day, every day, said Lisa Damour, author of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.
It goes beyond young people. The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story on The Booming Business of American Anxiety that began: A Google search for anxiety relief brings up links to supplements in the form of pills, patches, gums, and mouth sprays. There are vibrating devices that hang around the neck and tone the vagus nerve, heavy stuffed animals, beaded stress balls, and coloring books that claim to bring calm.
The cover of Newsweek tells a generation gripped by climate anxiety: Don’t give up hope. The Calm app has added meditations and lectures on anxiety, including Felt Piano for Anxiety, in which the pianist adds felt between the hammers and strings for a smoother sound.
Even the romantic comedy is affected. In a preview of What Happens Later with Meg Ryan and David Duchovny, Duchovny’s character tells, I was diagnosed with anticipatory anxiety.
Laurence Steinberg, author of You and Your Adult Child, said that anxiety increases markedly among women in their mid-20s, when the brain is still plastic.
He said young women and men were troubled by the cost of housing, climate change, racism and prejudice, and young women were also affected by threats to their reproductive health. (Historian Adam Tooze said the world was in a polycrisis.)
Many of my friends with adult children have had to go to therapy because they’re so stressed out about their children’s issues, Steinberg noted.
He said coping mechanisms must be taught. I don’t think we should just hand out pills and think that will solve the problem, he said.
Perhaps women are hit harder because they are more intrinsically connected to emotions and more focused on conversation, relationships, intimacy, nurturing and female community, as we see from hunter-gatherer times to Jane Austen novels and Real Housewives .
A friend’s 19-year-old daughter, who took Prozac for a while, explained: Covid happened just as we were entering the world and starting to see each other as sexual beings, as their own person, their own woman. All we managed to do was obsess over TikTok, which is full of misinformation. The world outside was apocalyptic, while at home our world was also a little apocalyptic because we were losing our sense of ourselves.
But since she texted her mom on Friday, we’ll be fine. Women tend to get it. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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