The Mental Health Crisis Among Young Liberal Women

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According to Evie magazine

Young Liberal Women Are Statistically The Unhappiest And Most Mentally Ill Demographic In America

Much data has shown that young women who identify as liberal are much less happy and fulfilled than their more conservative counterparts. There are many factors that could contribute to this divide. The Evie article blamed the problem on the fact that liberal women often view marriage and childbearing as “oppressive” .

Data has also shown that liberal people are less likely to prioritize activities that bring them personal fulfilment, such as a faith community, marriage, and family. Only 37% of liberals are married, while 56% of conservatives are married. Marriage has long been associated with better health, increased happiness, and even longer life expectancy.

Plunging more deeply into this crisis leads to a Pew survey in 2020 in the US which looks at mental health according to gender, age and politics and at subsequent efforts to interpret what is going on by a number of commentators including the eminent social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff of the free speech organisation FIRE, journalists Jill Filipovic, Matt Yglesias and a number of other researchers. The story is complicated so it will be necessary to take shortcuts and summarise concisely at certain steps. Related to all of this is the influential 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind by Haidt and Lukianoff.

The Pew survey found that 56% of liberal white women aged 18-29 have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. The data shows three main effects: gender (women higher), age (youngest groups higher), and politics (liberals higher). When all three are combined it is the young liberal women who are highest.

They are so high that a majority of them said yes, they had been told that they have a mental health condition.

Writing in March 2023 Haidt referred to another study of the gender-by-politics interaction: In recent weeks—since the publication of the CDC’s report on the high and rising rates of depression and anxiety among teens—there has been a lot of attention to a different study that shows the gender-by-politics interaction: Gimbrone, Bates, Prins, & Keyes (2022), titled: “The politics of depression: Diverging trends in internalizing symptoms among US adolescents by political beliefs.” Gimbrone et al. examined trends in the Monitoring the Future dataset, which is the only major US survey of adolescents that asks high school students (seniors) to self-identify as liberal or conservative (using a 5-point scale). The survey asks four items about mood/depression.

Journalist Matt Yglesias also took up the puzzle of why liberal girls became more depressed than others; he made use of the language of cognitive distortions which form the basis of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, CBT.

Yglesias wrote that “part of helping people get out of their trap is teaching them not to catastrophize.” This is the cognitive disorder which causes sufferers to blow things way out of proportion.

Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning).

Greg Lukianoff hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT.

Yglesias then described an essay by progressive journalist Jill Filipovic that argued, in Yglesias’s words, that “progressive institutional leaders have specifically taught young progressives that catastrophizing is a good way to get what they want.” This is the Filipovic hypothesis.

Jon Haidt: Once you say that speech is violence you are seven steps on the road to Hell

Matt Yglesias quoted a passage from Filipovic that expressed exactly the concern that Greg Lukianoff had expressed to Haidt back in 2014:

I am increasingly convinced that there are tremendously negative long-term consequences, especially to young people, coming from this reliance on the language of harm and accusations that things one finds offensive are “deeply problematic” or even violent. Just about everything researchers understand about resilience and mental well-being suggests that people who feel like they are the chief architects of their own life — to mix metaphors, that they captain their own ship, not that they are simply being tossed around by an uncontrollable ocean — are vastly better off than people whose default position is victimization, hurt, and a sense that life simply happens to them and they have no control over their response.

Locus of control is a malleable personality trait referring to the fact that some people have an internal locus of control—they feel as if they have the power to choose a course of action and make it happen, while other people have an external locus of control—they have little sense of agency and they believe that strong forces or agents outside of themselves will determine what happens to them. Sixty years of research show that people with an internal locus of control are happier and achieve more. People with an external locus of control are more passive and more likely to become depressed. According to Haidt:

It is now clear that heavy use of social media damages mental health, especially during early puberty

After much work Haidt and co-workers reached the tentative conclusion that the big story about locus of control is not about liberal girls, it’s about Gen Z as a whole. Everyone—boys and girls, left and right—developed a more external locus of control gradually, beginning in the 1990s.

In other words, we have support for Filipovic’s “captain their own ship” concern, and for Lukianoff’s disempowerment concern: Gen Z has become more external in its locus of control, and Gen Z liberals (of both sexes) have become more self-derogating.

As Gen Z women became more progressive and more involved in political activism in the 2010s, it seems to have changed them psychologically.

From mandatory diversity training to bias response teams and trigger warnings, there is little evidence that these programs do what they say they do, and there are some findings that they backfire.

Haidt believes that we are now

11 years into the largest epidemic of adolescent mental illness ever recorded

Haidt’s conclusion: All of Gen Z got more anxious and depressed after 2012. But Lukianoff’s reverse CBT hypothesis is the best explanation I have found for Why the mental health of liberal girls sank first and fastest.

Final word from DAVIA:  Commentators have hesitated to probe how feminist ideology may be contributing to this mental health break-down.


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