Why American Teens Are So Sad

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Somber opening that won’t surprise anyone working closely with adolescents.

“The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.”

The rest is required reading for anyone seeking to understand teen mental health.

The Age Of ‘Anti-Ambition’

A phrase for our times by The New York Times’ Noreen Malone. Subtitle, “When 25 million people leave their jobs, it’s about more than just burnout.”

Among the insights:

“. . . last month a Business Insider article declared that companies ‘are actively driving their white-collar workers away by presuming that employees are still thinking the way they did before the pandemic: that their jobs are the most important things in their lives. . .'”

“. . . a Gallup poll that showed that last year only a third of American workers said they were engaged in their jobs.”

Malone adds:

“Recently, I stumbled across the latest data on happiness from the General Social Survey, a gold-standard poll that has been tracking Americans’ attitudes since 1972. It’s shocking. Since the pandemic began, Americans’ happiness has cratered. The graph looks like the heart rate has plunged and they’re paging everyone on the floor to revive the patient. For the first time since the survey began, more people say they’re not too happy than say they’re very happy.”

Given the constant updating of statistics, the physical devastation caused by the pandemic is obvious. In contrast, the negative mental health effects lurk below the surface. If like me, you’re firmly on the ‘happy side’ of the ledger, keep in mind that we’re in the minority. Consequently, let’s strive to grant others more grace than normal.

Psychology Quiz

Name an emerging field of therapy.

Treating eco-anxiety.

“Her goal is not to be released from her fears about the warming planet, or paralyzed by them, but something in between: She compares it to someone with a fear of flying, who learns to manage their fear well enough to fly.

‘On a very personal level,’ she said, ‘the small victory is not thinking about this all the time.’”

A Hard Pass On Psychedelics

Ever pressed pause and asked yourself why LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs are trending?

Here are some explanations from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs have been used for a variety of reasons (Bogenschutz, 2012; Bonson, 2001). Historically, hallucinogenic plants have been used for religious rituals to induce states of detachment from reality and precipitate ‘visions’ thought to provide mystical insight or enable contact with a spirit world or ‘higher power.’ More recently, people report using hallucinogenic drugs for more social or recreational purposes, including to have fun, help them deal with stress, or enable them to enter into what they perceive as a more enlightened sense of thinking or being. Hallucinogens have also been investigated as therapeutic agents to treat diseases associated with perceptual distortions, such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dementia. Anecdotal reports and small studies have suggested that ayahuasca may be a potential treatment for substance use disorders and other mental health issues, but no large-scale research has verified its efficacy (Barbosa, 2012).”

Apart from the potential to help with substance abuse disorders and other mental health issues, I don’t find any of the other rationales convincing. Their appeal seems to speak to people’s discontentment with having more of their needs met than any other people at any other time in world history. 

Maybe this is just another case of Okay Boomerism, but I never wake up wishing for more mystical insight. More Sea Salt Caramel gelato in the freezer yes (or dark Raspberry Chocolate), but not a more enlightened sense of thinking or being. I’ll be sitting this one out because I’m content with my current anemic level of insight, thinking, and being. 

Osaka Says ‘Au Revoir’ To The French Open

The gist of the story

“Osaka, 23, . . . revealed that she has experienced depression and anxiety since winning her first major at the 2018 US Open and explained that speaking to the media often makes her nervous. She apologized to any media members she had impacted with her decision.

‘I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give [the media] the best answers I can.'”

This is bigger than the French Open. Osaka is emblematic of a generation that struggles with anxiety disorders and mental health more generally. The question is how are employers going to adapt to their young, often anxious employees? The best course of action will hinge on the type of work. But it starts, in each case, with heightened sensitivity to the issue. 

In Osaka’s case, tennis needs her WAY more than she needs tennis. In 2020, she earned $50 million from tournaments and endorsements*. Osaka preferring Instagram to post-match pressers makes perfect sense because she can control the message and her social anxiety. It was painful watching her squirm under intense questioning about a poor performance in a previous tournament. Professional tennis “powers that be” should start thinking about how athletes can leverage their social media to increase their and their sport’s popularity. The post match presser is analog, social media is digital. Osaka isn’t saying she doesn’t want to interact with fans, she’s saying she just doesn’t want to do it live right after matches. 

When professional tennis comes to ask me what they should do, I will be brief. Always accommodate. 

*I suspect Osaka’s mental health challenges and transparency about them make her an even more popular endorser of products. I also suspect she’d forego many millions for peace of mind.

Keep It Simple

When my dad’s business career took off, I was studying history with mostly Marxist professors; consequently, I didn’t fully appreciate his world. Fast forward four decades. As a member of the bourgeoisie (externally at least), I often think of him when I’m running or cycling and listening to an interview with an interesting businessperson. Now I wish I could talk business with him.

A lot of the podcasts I listen to alternate between business topics and trends and how to invest in light of those trends.

Tons of attention is being paid to new investment vehicles like NFTs (non fungible tokens) and blockchain-based cryptocurrencies (BitCoin, Ethereum, etc.). And let’s not forget trading stocks on commission-free apps like Robinhood. For home run hitters, fast changing personal finance-related technologies are alluring, but for singles hitters like me they are a distraction from what matters most when trying to build wealth slowly and steadily.

What does matter most? How much you are able to save and invest, if anything, at the end of a typical month. Until it’s consistently a positive figure, any energy expended thinking about all the shiny new investments that everyone is (seemingly) getting rich from is a complete waste of time. 

Most importantly, remember, good mental and physical health is the best kind of wealth.  

 

How Not To Care

If you look even a little bit, the growing population of homeless men, women, and children in Olympia, Washington are easily visible; mostly you’ll find them close to the social service agencies they depend upon, like the Salvation Army and the Thurston County Food Bank. An enormous tent and tarp community stretches all along the western edge of Capital Lake on Deschutes Parkway SW. It looks like a refugee camp you might find in Northeast Africa, but worse because there’s no UNHCR to create some semblance of order. More accurately, picture Miami post Hurricane Katrina. Many more live in tents and tarps among the trees that line the Woodland Trail and the I-5 freeway.  

The classic argument between the Individual Responsibility folks, “they have to take responsibility for their bad decisions” versus the Systemic Forces folks, “the growing numbers of homeless who succumb to combinations of poverty, addiction, and poor mental health are entirely predictable given our ‘winner-takes-all’ economic system coupled with our anemic social safety net” shows no signs of abating. Nearly all of the Individual Responsibility folks respond to  homeless men, women, and children with a mix of resentment and anger. At the same time, a gradually increasing percentage of the Systemic Forces folks are exasperated as some natural areas are lost and downtown grows less clean and safe.

So why, as the population of homeless men, women, and children rises; does it seem like our collective empathy decreases? Even among a lot of decent people who have demonstrated empathy in their past for others less fortunate than them?

Mired in resentment and anger, we leapfrog caring about our fellow citizens’ pain and suffering because we don’t know any homeless person’s story. We don’t know where they’re from, what their childhood was like, what hardships they’ve had to endure. Not knowing any of those things makes it much easier to assume they’ve made a series of bad decisions. And that until they start making good ones, they get what they deserve. 

Local papers don’t have the resources to tell their stories anymore. And even if alternative papers tried, would we read them when we don’t even really look at our homeless neighbors? As if they have leprosy, the best we can do, it seems, is a quick glance.

The secret to not caring about the homeless is not knowing anything about any one homeless person. Not learning their names and not looking at them helps too, but mostly, it’s avoiding learning how and why and where things went off the rails. 

Irrespective of one’s religious views or politics, it seems increasingly common to castigate “the homeless”. Because they remain an abstraction. 

This proven strategy works equally well in other contexts too. For example, the same approach to not caring works for the growing number of Central American immigrants gathering at our southern border. Many Fox News hosts are absolutely giddy over what the gathering numbers of desperate immigrants mean for Biden’s approval ratings and the midterm elections because they don’t know any of their stories. There are laws to be enforced and political gain to be made, nevermind their pain and suffering, their humanity.

Yesterday, I screwed up. And mistakenly read this story in the New York Times.

A Violent End to a Desperate Dream Leaves a Guatemalan Town Grieving

In doing so, I was introduced to Santa Cristina García Pérez, a 20 year old, one of twelve Comitecos who were massacred by Mexican police near the U.S. border. I learned Christina was one of 11 siblings who hoped to make enough money in the U.S. to. . . 

“. . . cover the cost of an operation for her one-year-old sister, Angela Idalia, who was born with a cleft lip. . . . 

She wanted to save Ángela Idalia from what she thought would be a life of ridicule, relatives said.”

I doubled down on my mistake by taking my time to truly see all of the Comitecos mourning their friends and family. Powerful images of profound loss, one after another. Including one of Ricardo García Pérez, Cristina’s dad, placing a bottle of water next to her casket. . .

“. . . so that Ms. García’s spirit did not suffer from thirst on its journey to the next life.”

I wasn’t the only one learning about the Comitecos. The Times explains:

“The killings have stunned the community, spurred a wave of international media attention on Comitancillo and an outpouring of financial support for the victim’s families. Among other acts of largess, donations from nearby communities in the region and from the Guatemalan diaspora have paid for Ángela Idalia’s first surgery to repair her cleft lip and have enabled the García family to build a new house.”

That’s one more vivid example that when most people see someone suffering, look into their eyes, learn their name, and something about their life journey; they can’t help but care. And help.

In contrast, the homeless in my community remain an abstraction. An abstraction most of us are determined to keep at a comfortable distance. Given our mounting resentment and anger at this abstraction, we keep asking, “When is someone going to do something?” 

 

Seattle Leans A Little Left

Moderate Democrats are splitting with more radical leftists on Seattle’s plans to give misdemeanor suspects a pass for crimes committed to meet a basic need.

Jason Rantz, right wing radio host tells a precautionary story. Seattle CM called police she defunded to report crime she is effectively legalizing.

I guess I’m a moderate Democrat since I find the proposed legislation problematic for the reasons Rantz explains. However, since we already imprison a larger proportion of citizens than any other country, we know Rantz’s solution of locking up more people will do nothing to reduce crime or improve Seattleites’ quality of life. Because criminals aren’t rational. They don’t plan on being caught, and therefore, don’t ponder the odds of going to prison.

We also now know we can’t afford our prison population if we want balanced state budgets. I wish I could direct a larger proportion of my city, county, and state sales taxes to mental health and substance abuse treatment.

That still leaves the question of what to do with all the criminals of sound mind who commit property crimes and other misdemeanors. On that, I’ll defer to experts to propose smarter, more viable alternatives to prison.

Today’s Lecture Notes

In her last paper, a classmate of yours wrote, “From being isolated, I have transitioned from thinking ‘is my work good enough’ to ‘am I good enough’.”

  • Everyone honest sometimes question whether they’re good enough. You are good enough whether you’re capable of doing your best work right now or not. The importance of your life dwarfs the importance of your academic performance this semester.
  • Things are going to get better, and regardless of your grade point average, you’re going to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
  • We can’t improve our mental health without other’s help. The hardest thing to do is the most important. Asking for help.