The Rise of Anxiety: A Discussion on Youth Mental Health

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:18
Oral Presentation
Matthew MUNRO, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
This paper traces the social historical developments of anxiety diagnostic criteria and its treatment throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Specifically, the paper looks at how these developments have affected the organization of youth mental health systems and how youth are treated for anxiety today.

A major philosophical shift took place during the twentieth century; psychiatric diagnostic categories for anxiety expanded greatly and the treatment of these conditions began to be interpreted within the bio-medical model of care. Pharmacotherapy, which was once considered a “taboo” for children and youth, by the turn of the century, had begun to be a commonly accepted form of treatment for mood and anxiety conditions.

This review of social-historical literature was interpreted alongside data collected for the ACCESS-Mental Health project, a qualitative study of the youth mental health system in Atlantic Canada conducted by Dr. Kate Tilleczek and the Young Lives Research Laboratory. In this study, youth participants expressed ongoing tensions and increased marginalization as they navigated mental health systems and negotiated their access to treatment options for anxiety.

Anxiety in the twenty-first century has become ubiquitous among young people, with high rates of emergency department visits and prescriptions for psychotropic medications in Canada. The shift toward a bio-medical understanding of anxiety, with the expansion of diagnostic categories, has created the potential to reduce stigma and increase mental health treatment options. However, if mental health systems today are not equitable for youth, did these shifts improve the psychiatric discourse and treatment of youth anxiety; or have youth positions in mental health system been further marginalized, with limited and inadequate treatment options made available?