Mental Health in Young Adults

Young Adults Struggle With Mental Wellbeing

Young adults are especially at risk from experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing.  The StudentMHQ is an assessment tool that helps schools and universities tailor their mental health support programs more effectively. 

For those who are older, early adulthood can seem like a carefree, privileged time of life. Starting college, dating, planning a career, fewer bills—from an outside perspective the world may seem fun and wide open for ages 18 to 25. However, data from the Mental Health Million Project Mental Health Quotient (MHQ) paints a different picture. Research shows that this age group actually suffers the most with mental wellbeing.

The data suggests that adults at this age struggle with multiple aspects of their mood and self-perception. Issues with peers, stress, mental health and sleep all come into play. By understanding these struggles better, college staff, therapists, and others who support young adults can be better equipped to help. Here’s a closer look at these important factors in early adulthood.


Self and Others

The most common mental wellbeing issue that young adults struggle with is called the social self, or in other words, how we perceive ourselves relating to peers. Mental Health Million Project data, collected using the MHQ, along with related research, supports this idea. This top concern may not be too surprising since social groups and peer expectations are a common aspect of young adult life.

A well-known sociologist, Charles Horton Cooley, coined the phrase “looking glass self,” which explains how part of our self-perception is based on how others view us. Young adults are most sensitive to responses from others, and this may be amplified by the prevalence of social media, which encourages nearly constant reflections. This social self dominates in early adulthood.

According to the MHQ, social self includes factors like confidence, self-worth, body image, and relationship building. Struggling with social self can lead to feeling detached, or even having aggressive and suicidal thoughts. On the other end, a higher social self score indicates higher contentment with ourselves and the ability to thrive in our social world.

In therapy, those in this age range often report that they feel like they don’t measure up to others, or may struggle to deal with criticism from friends. These day-to-day issues with peers are much more likely to consume therapy sessions than any other issue. Anecdotally, many young adults report high expectations of self, and often feel they don’t meet these expectations. They may also feel they will be judged or criticized by others, and sometimes are.

Social groups may be built-in, either leftover from high school, or through college campuses. This can be helpful and may make it easier to make friends, but it also may confine young adults within social groups of limited variety. For example, it may be hard to avoid a criticizing friend when you have the same mutual friends, classes, or hangouts. Since many young adults also communicate frequently via text and social media, separation can be even more challenging.

For those within large student organizations, like college campuses, there may also be pressure from others to live up to unrealistic academic, fitness, or beauty standards. Students may have to balance grades, dating and sex, friendships, physical appearance, social media, and extracurricular clubs or activities, all while taking care of responsibilities of adulthood. This is during a time of significant adjustment from adolescence.


Mood and Outlook

In a relatively close second to the social self category, young adults also struggle more than older adults with mood and outlook. The MHQ’s mood and outlook score looks at the ability to regulate and deal with difficult emotions. Those who struggle with this may have difficulty with phobias, uncontrollable crying, and suicidal thoughts.

Data from the Mental Health Million Project shows that young adults are the most at-risk for these kind of mental wellbeing issues. which often present at this age. Those in this age range also have a harder time dealing with stressors as compared to older adults, and report more sleep issues, which may complicate or be related to other aspects of wellbeing. For example, college students are diagnosed with PTSD at a significantly higher rate than the general population. Research also shows suicide rates are climbing in this age group, which are now at an all-time high.


Areas for Growth

Early adulthood does bring some wellness advantages. While social and mood issues are problematic for this group, they excel in areas of cognition. Young adults reported good memory, high levels of curiosity, and high empathy with others. This higher empathy can assist with social connections, cultural competence, and team collaboration.


The Student MHQ

While broader research offers a good starting place into the mental wellbeing of young adults today, it only gives a general picture of what’s going on and only allows you to offer one-size fits all solutions. By having more individualized and campus-specific data you can tailor your support programs to the unique needs of your student body. What’s more, students today are facing unprecedented uncertainty and disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Knowing how this is impacting your students, as well as making sure that any changes made in terms of increased online learning or new campus policies are having a positive impact on their wellbeing, is critical as you move forward within this new normal.  The StudentMHQ is an assessment tool that gives you the data you need to identify the specific mental wellbeing challenges that your students are facing and offers tailored guidance for how to strategically support the wellbeing of your students both on and off campus.  Learn more about how the StudentMHQ can help you provide more tailored mental health and wellbeing support for your students here.