Young adults can have difficulty living outside of the family home, have little motivation for work or school, and can become paralyzed by looming decisions about the next phase of life. Not surprisingly, societal expectations contribute heavily to symptoms of stress during this transitional time. Today, young adults seem to be experiencing this intense period differently than previous generations.
Take for example, Josh a transitional age youth who chose to attend a local community college instead of leaving the area for a four-year university like several of his friends. He continued living at home and took one or two classes at a time while he figured out his next steps. However, his motivation towards school declined and it became challenging for him to make it to campus even one day a week. He contemplated dropping out and spent most of his time at home on the computer playing games or using substances to pass the time. As he continued to isolate himself and his mood worsened, it became clear to his parents that something had changed. Josh wasn’t the same young man who enjoyed high school, had a solid social group, and was regularly active. It seemed that out of nowhere, Josh became “stuck”.
Understanding when normal ups and downs of life have become something more significant that should be assessed by a professional can be challenging. Many families have young adults living outside of the home and it becomes even harder to notice these changes without daily, in-person interaction. Josh’s parents attributed the change to Josh being “lazy” and having no drive to succeed. Josh’s friends didn’t notice a change because Josh portrayed a life on social media that was contrary to what he was experiencing. From Josh’s perspective, he was ashamed and considered himself a failure. It didn’t occur to him or his family members, that this could be something more.
This story is repeated all too often with young adults. The pressure of achievement is at an all-time high with difficulties being classified as failures and grades and accomplishments being the primary measures of success. Recognizing the needs of this specific age group, El Camino Hospital created the ASPIRE Transitional Aged Youth (TAY) Program that works with young adults age 18 to 25 to teach skills to help them effectively manage feelings of depression and anxiety in a healthy way. The program includes multi-family group sessions to provide a common language for parents/support persons to participate in the process. The primary goal of this group is to share the variety of symptoms that can be experienced with a mental health condition and to teach that this experience of “being stuck” is not voluntary nor should it be considered shameful.
Parent roles and expectations will likely need to shift to provide support to a generation that is paving a path that includes new advances, opportunities and experiences. The typical trajectory of completing high school, attending a four-year university, and then starting a successful career are no longer necessarily sequential steps. We can begin by validating the struggles that young adults are facing and working together to consider additional pathways to fulfillment and wellness.
For information about the APSIRE TAY Program at El Camino Hospital, please call 866-789-6089 or visit https://www.elcaminohealth.org/services/mental-health/specialty-programs/aspire.