ANALYSIS: ‘OK, doomer:’ The leftist ideas fueling the youth mental health crisis

A recent report argues that doomerism, or leftists' negative rhetoric around political issues, is contributing to high rates of anxiety and depression in Generation Z.

A 2021 study found that 'liberal boys are more depressed than conservative girls,' a difference attributed to the negative rhetoric liberals use to describe issues related to climate change, race, or income inequality.

A recent report suggests that leftist rhetoric around political issues is contributing to high rates of anxiety and depression in Generation Z. 

Adults have instilled youth with an ethos of “doomerism,” a Mar. 1 report from Matthew Yglesias suggests. In other words, a campus culture that applies a negative spin to identity-based issues and treats speech as violence has left the academy to inflict an entire generation.

After the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed a mental health crisis through its Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), the common refrain has been that social media is to blame. 

Yglesias, a co-founder of Vox, first touches on social media, which he acknowledges is especially damaging for the mental health of young women.

[RELATED: Professor worries about increasing rates of anxiety and depression in young women]

The impact on girls, however, cannot explain mental health differences based on ideology. Yglesias references a 2021 study, “The politics of depression,” which he notes found that “liberal boys are more depressed than conservative girls.”  

He attributes these differences to the negative rhetoric liberals use to describe issues related to climate change, race, or income inequality and their tendency to treat these issues as irresolvable. Yglesias presents a tweet from Washington Post reporter Taylor Lorenz as emblematic of doomerist politics: “we’re living in a late stage capitalist hellscape during an ongoing deadly pandemic w[ith] record wealth inequality, 0 social safety net/job security, as climate change cooks the world.”

For leftists, Yglesias writes that “this is what the path to victory looks like–progressive activists and intellectuals have succeeded in getting more people to pay attention to what they think are the most important problems.” But an approach to politics that “process[es] ambiguous events with a negative spin” is the very definition of depression. 

Putting a negative spin on events– the cognitive distortion known as catastrophizing– may be a useful political strategy. Yglesias, however, says that the adults teaching young people to catastrophize are indulging rather than fixing their mental health issues. 

In one instance of campus catastrophizing, Yglesias describes Stanford University’s bias reporting system, a tool maintained by university administrators to address harm and trauma that students experience because of their identity, according to its website. 

Reporting systems are not overtly political but, as the Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) has argued, can have a chilling effect on conservative students who worry that they will be investigated simply for expressing ideas about gender and other identity-based topics. 

The system, Yglesias continues, does no favors for liberal students, either. When administrators tell students that political ideas they find offensive are harmful, they reinforce the notion that they cannot control their reactions.

Recent legislation could combat doomerism from adolescence to adulthood. A number of red states introduced legislation to curb minors’ social media use through parental controls and age restrictions, limiting their access to the very platforms that amplify doomerist figures like Lorenz. 

For college-aged students, campus speech bills could help them ditch doomerist rhetoric and learn to speak civilly about political issues. Where legislators have not taken action, colleges have stepped in to model what discussions look like without catastrophizing. These include the proposed civics institutes that would hire faculty across the political spectrum and the suggested alternatives to bias reporting systems. 

Though partisan politics can influence views on issues such as free speech, writers across the political spectrum agree that something must be done to address the youth mental health crisis. 

[RELATED: Putting parents in charge of social media could help Gen Z mental health, experts argue]

In a reference to Sen. Josh Hawley’s bill to raise the minimum age to join social media, Michelle Goldberg signals in The New York Times that liberals will have to abandon the tendency to reject solutions because they are endorsed by conservatives:

“The idea that unaccountable corporate behemoths are harming kids with their products shouldn’t be a hard one for liberals to accept, even if figures like Hawley believe it as well,” she argues. 

“I’m not sure if banning social media for young people is the right way to start fixing the psychic catastrophe engulfing so many kids. But we’re not going to find any fix at all if we simply start with our political priors and work backward.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.