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‘Golden press:’ Teenage mental illness soars in wealthy US, UK families

Reuters / Marcelo del Pozo

Reuters / Marcelo del Pozo

Mental health problems in children from wealthy US and UK families soar, new research reveals. The richer sectors of society are facing a crisis of eating disorders, drug abuse and self-harm, mostly due to “unrealistic” expectations pinned on kids.

Wealthy parents expect their off-springs to excel in all fields, including sports and music, as well as academically, American psychologists claim. This turns even activities once thought to be for fun or for leisure purposes into a stressful experience.

Studies show that on average, serious levels of depression, anxiety or somatic [physical] symptoms occur twice as often among these [wealthier] boys and girls compared to national rates,” writes the study’s author, Suniya Luthar, in the research published in Psychology Today and the Journal of Development and Psychopathology.

Scientists involved in the research found that children who were from households with an overall income of $160,000 were experiencing double the standard rates of anxiety and depression than their less wealthy counterparts.

Luthar explained that “some [pressure] comes from the families. There are high pressure traps that white-collar parents more than others, can fall into,” adding that the source of pressure can be from parents, teachers, coaches and peers – “the entire community.”

It is claimed that the incessant pressure being heaped on the nation’s youth led to increased feelings of vulnerability and children feel they cannot live up to the standards their parents set. Pressure can be applied from a young age with competition for school places and primary school tests beginning early on.

The evidence suggests that the privileged young are much more vulnerable than in previous generations. I have spent the last decade researching why this is the case. The evidence points to one cause: the pressure for high octane achievement,” Luthar told the Telegraph. Existing pressure is enhanced by the necessity in later years to secure a place at a leading university.

Researchers also discovered that drug abuse, eating disorders, neuroses and self-harm were rapidly rising among wealthy teens.

A never-ending cycle of exams and targets which causes the children to become “shattered” by a “fear of failure,” is to be blamed, according to Professor Tanya Byron, who treats children at a London clinic. She told Britain’s Telegraph that she was treating more and more young people for anorexia, self-harming and depression.

However, the highest rates of mental illness are still found in children from the very poorest families. Luthar has conducted previous research exploring the “draining, restrictive effects” of poverty. Income inequality has been found to cause stress, frustration and family disruption, filtering into further problems.

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