Working on Wellness: The Impact of Current Events and Technology on Young Adult Stress

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By Janis Malon, Training Director USM Health & Counseling Services

John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, spoke at a recent Harvard Medical School conference on Treating Young Adults (April 5, 2019). Based on his work over the past 20 years, he suggests that young people today have more fear than hope about America’s future. They have little trust in our institution to solve today’s challenges. A majority are dealing with or have a close friend dealing with mental health issues. He posits that cultural trends have a larger impact on mood disorders and suicidality in younger versus older adults. Gun violence, school shootings, sexual assault, drug use, racism, hate speech and hate groups, disrespect, inequality and crippling debt associated with higher education disproportionately impact millenials and post millenials. Meanwhile, stigma and the negative aspects of social media such as cyberbullying leave people isolated and reluctant to ask for help.

Yet, there is reason for optimism despite the high levels of stress and anxiety that young people face. In the midterm election of 2018 the youth vote nearly doubled from 2014 levels from 16% to 31%. Young people are also volunteering at record levels.

USM exemplifies this optimism. At the 10th Annual Husky Day of Service on April 12, students, faculty and staff joined together to help those in need, exemplifying the Service Values of Respect & Care, Integrity, Equity and Responsiveness. The Office of Service Learning and Volunteerism recently highlighted a number of opportunities, including stints at the Center for Grieving Children, the Preble Street Soup Kitchen, Long Creek Youth Development Center and Portland Trails. In fall 2019 the Policy, Planning & Management program will be offering a graduate course on Volunteer Engagement and Management.

The Recovery Oriented Campus Center’s (ROCC) April newsletter highlighted a number of events including Suicide Prevention Training, Overdose Prevention & Response Training, and a Recovery Stories Panel of individuals sharing their stories of living with mental health conditions and substance use disorders.  NAMI on Campus (National Alliance on Mental Illness) hosts periodic movie nights for USM community members to watch and discuss films with a recovery theme.

At the recent “Memories, Trauma and Genocide” event organized by Dr. Abraham Peck, the psychologist Dr. Yael Danieli addressed the importance of speaking out against the horrors of genocides such as the Holocaust, the Native American, Rwandan, Cambodian, Armenian and Darfur genocides. Her research and subsequent work emphasized that discussing such traumatic experiences can facilitate hope and healing.

Social connectedness and future orientation are two major sources of resilience. Della Volpe closed his presentation on a very positive note, and I would agree: Generation Z and Millennials are a values generation, and greatness is their mission.

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