Stress in Young America: Why the US is on Red Alert

SubwayA study conducted over 7 years to measure stress and its impact across America has reported that more young Americans than ever before are suffering from a level of stress beyond their capacity to cope. Young Americans are more likely to deal with stress with negative coping strategies such as smoking, drinking, sleeping or overeating.

In the survey by The American Psychological Association the general perception of stress across generations had declined by 1.3 with Americans rating their average stress level as 4.9 instead of 6.2 in 2007. However, more Americans are reporting stress levels above what they consider to be normal and 1 in 5 Americans rate their stress levels 8, 9 or 10 in a 10-point scale where 1 is “little or no stress” and 10 is “a great deal of stress.“

Young people, “Millenials” (18-33) recorded the highest levels of stress of all of the age groups; Generation Xers (34-47), Boomers (48 to 66) and Matures (67 years and older). With youth unemployment nudging towards double the national average at 13 percent, young people were bearing the brunt of the economic fallout. The US Department of Labor reported that 39 percent of young adults reported struggling to pay rent or medical bills, cutting back on spending or losing their jobs last year.

The generations showed interesting differences in coping with stress; Boomers and Matures were more likely to go to religious services than younger adults (Millennials: 16 percent; Gen Xers: 19 percent; Boomers: 23 percent; Matures: 32 percent), while younger generations were more likely to shop (Millennials: 19 percent; Gen Xers: 13 percent; Boomers: 10 percent; Matures: 6 percent).

The survey asked the 2020 participants to rate their stress level and the health care they received to help them with managing and coping with the effects of stress on their health. The report highlighted that a majority of stressed Americans felt that they were being failed by their health care providers and received little if any support to minimise the effects of stress on their lives.  Health care providers were not seen to adequately support lifestyle and behavior issues like stress management, depression or anxiety, weight management, anger or lack of sleep.

Although the number of participants reporting positive coping mechanisms such as listening to music, working out or spending time being with family had increased, still 25 percent of people turned to negative coping mechanisms such as overeating, smoking, sleeping or drinking to cope with stress.  Millennials and Gen Xers were most likely to say that they engage in unhealthy behaviors because of stress and experience symptoms of stress.

The impact of stress on people’s lives can be huge and can lead to, or aggravate, a host of physical and mental health problems including heart disease, digestive problems, sleep problems, depression and obesity. Chronic stress also takes its toll on the immune system.

Highlights from the “Stress in America” report:

The top sources of stress were:
1. money (69 percent)
2. work (65 percent) 3. the economy (61 percent)
4. family responsibilities (57 percent)
5. relationships (56 percent)
6. family health problems (52 percent)
7. personal health concerns (51 percent).

Average city stress ratings:

Atlanta: 5
Atlantans are more likely than adults nationwide to say they have been told by a health care provider that they are overweight (33 percent vs. 22 percent) and to have high blood pressure (34 percent vs. 30 percent).

Chicago: 4.7
Chicagoans are less likely than adults nationwide to think that psychologists can help with lifestyle or behavior changes (33 percent vs. 42 percent). Fewer Chicagoans than Americans overall say that they have been referred to a mental health provider (8 percent vs. 12 percent).

Denver: 5.5

Stress levels in Denver increased.  People living in Denver are more likely to say that they have been referred to a mental health provider (16 percent vs. 12 percent). They are also far more likely to say that money is a significant source of stress than Americans overall.

Detroit: 5.1

More Detroit residents this year report that work is a significant source of stress. They also place more importance on success in their careers and studies and feel they are reaching vocational goals. The percentage of people in Detroit who say their health is fair or poor has increased from 16 percent in 2011 to 25 percent in 2012.

Los Angeles: 5

People living in Los Angeles report lower average stress levels compared to last year (5.0 vs. 5.3 on a 10-point scale). Concerns over health are higher in Los Angeles: 61 percent of Los Angeles residents say personal health concerns are a significant source of stress compared to 51 percent of Americans overall.

New York City: 5.2

Thirty-six percent of New Yorkers give their physical health care an “A” grade, while 31 percent grade their mental health care the same. Several commonly reported sources of stress such as money, work and the economy are cited more frequently as stressors by New Yorkers than Americans overall.

Seattle: 4.7

In Seattle the average reported stress level has declined. In Seattle, almost half of adults (47 percent) give their physical health care an “A” grade, compared to 35 percent of adults nationwide. Only 36 percent of Seattle residents say the same about their mental health care.

Washington D.C: 5

D.C. residents are more likely than Americans overall to say they are in excellent or very good health (44 percent vs. 40 percent). D.C. residents are more likely than Americans overall to say they are in excellent or very good health (44 percent vs. 40 percent).


The Tell Tale Signs of Stress

Approximately seven in 10 Americans report that they experience physical (69 percent) or non-physical symptoms (67 percent) of stress. Symptoms include;

irritability or anger (37 percent)

fatigue (37 percent)

feeling overwhelmed (35 percent)

changes in sleeping habits (30 percent).

The report concludes that interventions for the prevention and treatment of stress by health care professionals have seen to have failed the American population.  Despite over 50 percent or participants agreeing that psychological support would be beneficial to their life, only 6 percent reported being referred to a mental health professional.

High stress left untreated can leave people vulnerable to developing chronic diseases such as depression. The World Federation for Mental Health predicts that depression will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2030. In a futurologist career report the most demanded professional in the next 20 years is predicted to be psychologists and counsellors, second only in demand to data analysts.

With young people reporting the highest levels of stress, the future looks more difficult to navigate for the Millennials than it has been for any other generation.


Stress in America.  Open up PDF report.

Depression: A Global Crisis PDF report

Guide to help with stress –