The Kids Are Not Alright: Mental Health and Youth Voter Turnout Rates

When considering the mental well-being of teenagers and young adults, it’s common for some to dismiss their challenges as mere products of excessive social media use or typical high school stress. However, this overlooks the unique political and social climate of the times we are living in, especially concerning youth voter turnout. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 6 U.S. youth experience a mental health disorder each year. In order to delve deeper into this issue in a political context, a recent study conducted by Common Sense examined the correlation between the mental health of America’s youth and the issues they, along with their parents, prioritize as voters.

The findings were unequivocal. Today’s youth are grappling with anxieties about their future to such an extent that it significantly impacts their mental well-being, a departure from historical trends among children and young adults. Particularly noteworthy in the data is the sentiment surrounding the economy for young individuals. A staggering four out of five voters (81%) expressed apprehension about the economic prospects for the next generation, with nearly half (46%) expressing deep concern. This marks a significant shift wherein the economic outlook of America has become so bleak that voters are now worried about the future of a generation yet to embark on their professional journey.

This economic data highlights a broader concern for young individuals: it suggests a lack of opportunities for them compared to older generations. Notably, 33% of young adults aged 19 to 24 harbor a pessimistic belief that they will fare worse than their parents—a sentiment less prevalent in earlier generations. 

Consequently, rather than gravitating toward candidates who inspire hope, the survey underscores that the majority of young people have become disillusioned with their elected leaders. In a political climate that is so unpredictable and with elections being decided by a very small number of votes, these types of problems become very severe. Only 23% of eligible young Americans cast a ballot in the 2022 midterm elections, which was one of the highest youth turnout rates in a midterm election since the voting age was lowered to 18 – but still concerningly low.  

Today’s youth have endured significant challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, tumultuous elections, a worsening climate crisis, and conflicts in regions like Ukraine and the Middle East. The study showed that 60% of young people believe that politicians and elected officials are not reflecting the needs, desires, and experiences of younger people in this country. It’s imperative for politicians to instill hope to combat this cynicism and follow through on their promises to restore trust with their constituents as November quickly approaches.

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