Addressing the Mental Health Crisis in Youth—Sick Individuals or Sick Societies? | The prevalence of anxiety and depression has been increasing in the US as well as in many other parts of the world. This trend, beginning in the 2010s, has largely been concentrated among adolescents and youth.1 [JAMA Network]
At least 2 broad sets of characterizations have been proposed in the scientific literature and lay press, the first viewing this increase as an epidemic of psychiatric disorders2 while the other seeing the increase in psychological distress in youth as reflective of sociopolitical adversity and disorganization.3
At the risk of oversimplification, this contrast may be viewed as a sick individuals vs sick society polarity. Such explanatory dualities present clinicians with the challenge of how to navigate concerns about excessive medicalization and address complex social determinants of health in clinical settings. Moving past conceptual binary constructs fueling this polarization can be an important first step in addressing the mental health crisis in youth. Herein, we discuss the reasons for this polarization, strategies to overcome it, and how these insights should inform clinical practice.