Our late teens and early twenties are frequently a difficult and stressful time, something that older adults often forget. They characterize these years as fun and carefree, often forgetting that in fact they presented a raft of serious challenges in a short period during which most of us lack the experience to be able to take them in our stride.
This is a time when you’re expected to leave the family you’ve lived with all of your life and strike out on your own. This independence can be exciting and exhilarating, but it can also feel frightening and isolating. You may be starting college or your first full-time job, living away from home and supporting yourself financially for the first time. The influx of new responsibilities can be overwhelming.
At the same time your body, mind and emotions are still developing. You may be in your first serious relationship, or still negotiating the minefield of dating and figuring out your sexuality, or you may already have a child of your own. And all the time you feel as though you’re being constantly measured and judged, most obviously when you’re facing tests and exams that you’re told will determine the course of the rest of your life. As if that wasn’t pressure enough, everyone seems to expect you to be out having fun every night at the same time as working hard and building a future.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that poor mental health has always been highest among young adults, and each successive generation seems to suffer worse than the last. Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are serious problems for the young, and the worst thing is that the level of diagnosis is not matched by the numbers receiving treatment.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, your first option should be to see your family doctor. If this isn’t an option for whatever reason, then find out if there is a community organization in your area offering the support you need. Universities also often have mental health specialists available for students. Cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy can help to identify and overcome negative thought patterns and to help you to work towards positive goals.
You are what you eat
Poor diet is often linked to mental health, either as a cause or a symptom, but it can also be a problem in its own right. Living off junk food and sugary drinks, neglecting fruit and vegetables and not getting enough exercise can quickly lead to obesity, which in turn can cause heart and skin problems, as well as low self-esteem, and cause enduring damage to teeth and gums. Eating a healthy diet needn’t cost a lot of money or require a well-equipped kitchen, and while it doesn’t mean you can’t still have the occasional pizza, home cooking- however basic- can be fun and creative.
The high cost of loving
Our early adult years are often the period when we have the widest variety of sexual partners without always taking precautions against the risks involved. The risks include not just pregnancy but a range of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), some more serious than others. If you’ve been at risk of an STD you owe it to yourself and your partner(s) to get tested as soon as possible. Young adults in Texas can visit a number of labs for STD testing, El Paso being an option, then download their results online, with no need to involve the family doctor.
Knowing when to stop
Drink and drugs are temptations that can be especially hard to avoid in young adulthood. We may think that because we don’t drink all the time we don’t have a problem, but binge drinking can be just
as dangerous, especially when you are young and inexperienced and don’t yet know your limits. Drugs are worse, not least because they are generally illegal. You won’t know if what you’re taking has been cut with another substance, and also you run the risk of being arrested and ending up with a criminal record that could seriously limit your future life choices.
If you feel that you can’t avoid drugs or an excessive alcohol intake on your own then confidential counselling may be able to help you to get to the root of the problem. Drug use and drinking are often ways to compensate for other issues, so by addressing them you may be able to abandon what is a very unsuitable crutch. Sometimes you may need to change your social group if your current friends are enabling destructive habits.
Being young isn’t easy. But help is always available to help you deal with any health concerns you may have. Dealing with the issues will help you to genuinely enjoy life and build the future you deserve.