Anxiety is a public health problem



August 5, 2019 - 9:54 AM

I can perceive the increasing anxiety among my students. Today, they come to the office not only to discuss courses, internships, and post-graduation plans, but also to apologize for missed classes and changing behavior due to new doses of medication, personal and family drama, and other stressors. My colleagues and I are receiving more and more training about warning signs, counseling referrals, and conducting interventions, alongside the usual degree reports and add/drop slips. K-12 teachers tell me they see this as well, and I also see it in my younger colleagues.

The data show it, too. Anxiety is on the rise. The American Psychiatric Association ran a 1000-respondent poll in 2017, finding that two-thirds of respondents identified themselves as extremely or somewhat anxious — a 36% jump from 2016. These answers were most common among the millennial generation. Health and safety for self and family were the most common concerns. The poll was repeated in 2018 and found another 5% increase. Surveys in other developed countries also show increases.

Why should political scientists be concerned? First, professors are, first and foremost, teachers, and our first responsibility is our students’ well-being. Second, research should explore the rising anxiety levels and our divisive, fear and anger-driven political climate, manifested in figures like former Kansas Secretary of State and current U.S. Senate candidate Kris Kobach. Third, labeling anxiety a public health problem is a public policy issue.

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