Addressing the Adolescent Mental Health Crisis through Connection, Community, Meaning, and Purpose
Michael Strong, The Socratic Experience
Thanks largely to the efforts of Jean Twenge and Jonathan Haidt, we have finally reached the point at which the public is aware of the adolescent mental health crisis taking shape.(1) Their approach has been to highlight the role of social media as a causal factor in the epidemic of depression among adolescent girls
Their proposed policy response is to regulate social media so that teens cannot access it so easily. Utah has responded promptly, passing legislation requiring minors to obtain consent from their parents to access social media and forcing social media companies to obtain age verification from all Utah users.(2) The big question remains: Can it be enforced effectively?
While parents, governments, corporations, and the broader public engage in what is likely to be a long cat and mouse game regarding access to social media, I want to call attention to a fundamentally different strategy for addressing the adolescent mental health crisis: Learning environments rich in connection, community, meaning, and purpose.
CDC reported in April 2022, based on a survey of 7,705 adolescents:
“Compared with those who did not feel close to persons at school, students who felt close to persons at school had a significantly lower prevalence of poor mental health . . . during the past 30 days (23.5% versus 37.8%), persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness (35.4% versus 52.9%), having seriously considered attempting suicide (14.0% versus 25.6%), and having attempted suicide (5.8% versus 11.9%).” (3)
While Twenge and Haidt have been nobly focused on the role of social media in the adolescent mental health crisis, a very simple approach to reduce the harm is right before our eyes: Increase the extent to which adolescents feel connected at school. Note that not feeling connected at school more than doubles the rate of attempted suicide.
Moreover, the need for adolescents to feel connected is hardly new. This is a sampling of an immense literature on the issue:
“Longitudinal evidence of the positive effects of school connectedness
has been documented in…