According to a recent Harvard survey by the Graduate School of Education, depression and anxiety may impact young adults twice as much as teenagers. Approximately 36% of young adults said they struggle with anxiety, compared to 18% of teens. About 29% of young adults said they experience depression, compared to 15% of teens. Mental-health issues among teens due to the rise of social media, growing isolation, and inadequate sleep and exercise have received plenty of attention in recent years, but in-depth surveys among young adults are relatively new.
The causes of this sharp rise in mental-health problems are tell-tale signs of their spiritual condition.
Respondents to the survey shared specific challenges they face:
- 58% say they lack meaning and purpose, not knowing what to do with their lives;
- 56% worry about finances;
- 51% feel pressured to achieve;
- 45% have a sense that the world is falling apart;
- 44% lack meaningful relationships;
- 34% cite loneliness as a key factor in their depression.
Many cited social and political issues as a significant cause of mental-health problems:
- 42% blame gun violence;
- 34% are concerned about climate change;
- 30% cite incompetence or corruption among spiritual leaders.
Richard Weissbourd, lead author of the report and senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said in a press release concerning the survey that “far too many young adults told us that they feel on edge, lonely and directionless, and that they worry about financial security. Many are ‘achieving to achieve’ and find little meaning in either school or work.”
My wife and I have two daughters who belong to that generation. Both of them struggle with depression, anxiety, and ADHD. This began to shape their mental health in high school, grew worse in college, and is deeply ingrained in their current worldview. Despite being raised in a loving Christian home and making professions of faith, they have turned their backs on what they call “organized religion” and see the Church as a place of judgment and rejection rather than of love and acceptance. They often speak of “existential dread” and cite climate change and economic mismanagement as making their future on this planet look bleak — with no hope for a turnaround or improvement. Based on conversations with them, I would add helplessness and bitterness as contributing factors to their depressed outlook. They feel powerless against big business and corrupt politicians, and that powerlessness angers them.
Most of their friends have similar issues and outlooks, and that is where they find greater acceptance and belonging than, say, in the Church. Somehow, it is a badge of honor to have one or more diagnosed mental disorders and to take medications for them.
There is a direct relationship between this trend toward depression and anxiety in young adults and the fastest-growing religious worldview in America: the “nones.” According to leading “nones” expert Dr. Ryan Burge, they encompass about 40% of young adults and consist of three subgroups: atheists, agnostics, and people with no particular way of worshipping God. He thinks that the biggest crisis we face in our country today is one of trust in what were once reliable institutions. Nones consider themselves spiritual, with over 90% saying they believe in the existence of God, but they don’t trust religious institutions or the systematic religious doctrines they hold.
Therein lies the problem. A departure from a clear-cut teaching on who God is and what the Bible says about salvation and how to live in relationship with God and each other leads to a lack of direction in life and spiritual insight into what is happening in the world today. It also leads to the loss of a moral compass and positive outlook. Says Dr. Burge: “I think religion used to be the ultimate cynicism fighter. But now that fewer people are going to church, we’re not hearing those messages of hope. And I think we’re reverting back to some of our worst impulses. We don’t trust anyone. We don’t trust any institutions. We just fight for ourselves and mind our own business.”
In other words, the turning away from biblical Christianity and toward vague spirituality is producing a rudderless generation in the grip of mental and emotional disorders.
The answer lies in a return to the Christian faith, but by understanding this in terms of a relationship with their Creator, and not membership in a religious institution. Young adults need to rediscover God as the one who loves, forgives, cares, directs, and shapes our thinking toward a concrete sense of identity and direction. They need to understand anew what godly love is: not tolerance but the unconditional embrace of God’s best for every human created in His image, which is repentance of sin, citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, and a godly life worked out in us by the Holy Spirit that gives us purpose, meaning, direction, vision, and faith for the future.
At the same time, the Church needs to be revitalized into a Body of unconditional love that makes the presence and love of God real. Dr. Burge suggests that churches need to get to know people who have left the church, establish relationships, listen to their stories, and hear the truth of what’s going on in their lives. In other words, fold them in from a place of listening rather than judgment. Young adults like my daughters often express their need for a place where they feel safe to struggle instead of feeling scrutinized and judged. When they don’t find that in any church, they look for it elsewhere. Providing a safe place for a diverse and struggling generation is hard to do in a church culture that has become increasingly homogenized. It requires a move of the Holy Spirit and intentional dependence on the love of God He pours out into our hearts to do that.
We can pray for this rudderless generation along two parallel lines:
- for the Holy Spirit to turn their hearts back to a relationship with God;
- for Him to help the Church become a safe and loving place to embrace and disciple them and thus restore their sense of meaning and purpose and regain hope and peace.
Father of all generations, we pray for a move of the Holy Spirit in our nation’s young adults. Ignite in their hearts the desire to seek You for meaning, purpose, healing, hope, and peace. Move in Your Church to seek the Holy Spirit’s help to create a safe yet uncompromising place for all to grow in faith. Please help us embrace diversity and approach the mental-health struggles of the emerging generations with wisdom and patience. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Share your prayers for the young adults of America below.
Remco Brommet is a pastor, spiritual-growth teacher, and prayer leader with over 40 years of experience in Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the U.S. He was born and raised in the Netherlands and pastored his first church in Amsterdam. He moved to the U.S. in 1986. He and his wife, Jennifer, live north of Atlanta. When not writing books, he blogs at www.deeperlifeblog.com and assists his wife as a content developer and prayer coordinator for True Identity Ministries. Jennifer and Remco are passionate about bringing people into a deeper relationship with Christ. Photo Credit: Anh Nguyen on Unsplash.