The demands of living in current times are causing depression, anxiety and other mental health problems in young people, writes Nadia Badarudin
LIFE seems full of sweet dreams when we are young and carefree. As a fresh graduate, it’s normal for us to wish for good things in the future — a permanent job with a handsome salary, the dream car and a home of our own.
But life is not always smooth sailing. While some young working adults may soldier on amidst the trials and tribulations, others struggle with emotional and physical issues as soon as they leave university, or even before, and in this state, enter the working world.
Though each generation has faced its own set of problems, dilemmas faced by young adults during present times appear to have wide-ranging social and economic implications, with a rising number being diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems.
Muhammad Alif, 26, from Perak, obtained his degree in marketing at a local university and is currently working as a marketing executive in the publishing industry. The biggest challenge he had to face as soon as he graduated was to find a job.
“I was stressed because I had to compete with so many candidates while job-hunting. I signed up with an online job-hunting portal which enabled me to see that I was competing with both over-qualified and under-qualified people,” he says.
“It put me in a tough situation. I needed a job badly because I had to start paying my PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) study loan,” he says, adding that he also had other financial woes after leaving his hometown for Kuala Lumpur.
Muhammad, who is active on social media, says sometimes he is emotionally affected by what he sees on Instagram. “I feel down when I come across friends who have made it — some are hired by big companies, have bought a new car or are living a fancy lifestyle. I can only hope that my time will come.”
Jeehah Luqman, 24, from Shah Alam faces the same dilemma. Apart from having to pay her study loan, she too had to deal with the pressures of job-hunting. “I work as a human resource recruiter. I have a degree in petroleum geoscience but I had a tough time finding a job that was relevant to my qualification.
“It’s also hard to find a permanent job. Most companies offer a permanent post only to those with more experience. When I check on my former college mates on Facebook or Instagram, I have to admit that I envy those who have managed to get permanent jobs and have started to plan their future,” she says.
Unlike Muhammad and Jeehah, the path bridging adolescence and adulthood has been a confusing experience for Melissa Zain, 22.
On the surface, Melissa is a person everyone aspires to be. Blessed with beauty and brains, and an army of followers on her social media network, she is the envy of everyone as things just seem to fall right into her lap. The popular girl has always excelled in her studies and was head-hunted by big corporations even before she graduated. Despite all this, she is depressed. She feels like she is a fraud and living a life she does not deserve. She has what is called high functioning depression.
MORE ON PLATE
The coping mechanisms among today’s generation are different as they are exposed to more factors that can emotionally and physically affect them in life, says Katyana Azman, child psychologist at Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur.
“Generally, we’re having more young adults stressed out or experiencing symptoms of stress-related illnesses such as anxiety or depression due to life experiences or environmental factors.
However, it is not only happening here but all around the globe. I think it’s due to the fact that there’s a lot more on the plate of a young adult now in comparison to 30 or 40 years ago,” says Katyana, whose patients are mainly young adults.
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015, the prevalence of mental health problems among young adults (aged between 16 and 35) in Malaysia in 2015 was 29.2 per cent, which was a three-fold increase from 10.7 per cent in 1996.
Katyana says stress is among the main factors that can lead to mental issues. It can also cause a number of physical ailments such as chronic headaches, difficulty sleeping or eating disorders. Ultimately, it will affect one’s ability to perform or function normally and productively.
Struggling to cope with studies, work, new financial commitments, family expectations and relationships are among the topics of concern for young adults. Competition and the need to be on par or ahead of their peers also cause stress.
“We’re looking at a jump from adolescence to adulthood where lots of parental or societal structures are still involved. When you’re fresh out of university, everyone expects you to behave like an adult and assume so many responsibilities.
But individuals in their early to mid- 20s are still mentally or neurologically developing, thus, they might not be able to process all the things on their plate as they are expected to. And that triggers stress,” says Katyana.
We are also looking at fresh graduates being thrust into a new pool where competition to get hired is stronger than 30 or 40 years ago. And it becomes more complicated when they have to juggle minimum wage with a high cost of living and other money-related matters such as study loans as soon as they leave university, she says.
“Young adults are competing with so many high achievers,” explains Katyana. “There’s a joke about today’s employers,... ‘We want a 25-year-old with 25 years of experience’. It reflects a higher degree of expectation on behalf of employers. They have become stricter in hiring people and demand a lot from fresh graduates now as they have so many young and capable candidates to choose from.”
Social media and the need to portray oneself as having an accomplished or fashionable lifestyle also trigger stress among the younger generation.
“Social media has a huge influence on the mental health of young adults. These young and very socially connected individuals feel the need to live up to a certain lifestyle as portrayed by their peers on social media.They start to compare notes but fail to realise that life is not picture perfect and it may not be realistic to attain such goals when you are in your early 20s.”
Another factor that creates stress is high expectations from family and society.
“We’re raised in a society where we’re expected to follow a standard path to succeed in life. Also, in Asian culture, you’re not supposed to air your dirty laundry in public. These are among the factors that cause friction between young individuals and their parents,” says Katyana.
ASK FOR HELP
Katyana says it is very important for young adults to realise that it is not wrong to seek help when they have problems.
“You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, and seeking help is not a sign of weakness,” she says.
When should they ask for help? What are the signs that they are actually facing a serious issue?
She says: “Life is subjective and everybody handles stress, crisis or trauma differently. Ask yourself whether the situation is making it difficult for you to function. Does the problem affect your life, health, work or relationships? If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, then you need backup or help.
“If you feel like reaching out to someone, go ahead and it doesn’t have to be a specialist. It can be anyone within your circle.”
Her advice for young adults to keep their head up is simple. “Don’t compare yourself to other people and never let someone tell you that you shouldn’t feel the way you do.”