Teens today are engaging less in risky behavior than teens in the past. Here‚Äôs some good news about high school students in America today:
But there‚Äôs bad news too. The American Psychological Association reports that teenagers in the US feel more stress than in the past. They are more likely than Americans over 21 to feel stress from news about mass shootings, suicide, climate change, separation of immigrant families and reports of sexual harassment. 73% of teens say they could have used more emotional support in the past year. A majority believe this is the lowest point in the nation‚Äôs history they can remember and that the current political climate is a significant source of stress to them. When teens look at their peers, they say the biggest problem is anxiety and depression and those two issues far exceed concerns about all other major issues, including drugs, alcohol, poverty, pregnancy, gangs and bullying. These concerns are not related to income ‚ÄĒ concerns about anxiety and depression are the top issues at all income levels. Perversely, teens who are eligible to vote have the lowest voting intention of any age group.
Brands are starting to react to the change. Burger King has partnered with Mental Health America for the month of May which is Mental Health Month. They have created meals that are counter to McDonald‚Äôs Happy Meals and called them Pissed Meal, Blue Meal, Salty Meal, YAAAS meal and DGAF Meal. The idea is to acknowledge mental health issues and that it‚Äôs ‚ÄúOK to not be OK.‚ÄĚ
As depression and anxiety continue to grow especially among teens, there‚Äôs a compelling moral and business opportunity for brands. How can those anxious consumers best be served and helped? If you‚Äôre a retail brand or merchant, it‚Äôs an issue that affects your target market and something you have to be mindful of. Tina Sharkey, Co-Founder and CEO of Brandless, told me, ‚ÄúWe see people in modern lives ‚Ä¶creating new rituals around wellness, fitness, healthier living and healthier eating.¬† Part of what we built into Brandless is simplicity‚Ä¶you don‚Äôt have to sort through 20,000 sort results, we have one‚Ä¶ That is helping people mitigate this paradox of choice and anxiety and [for us and our consumer,] less is more.‚ÄĚ
Olivier Zimmer, a cofounder of Google Fashion Trends left Google to create Spate, which predicts consumer trends using Google search data.¬† Zimmer says his data shows that the interest in anxiety will continue to explode, he expects it to rise by 24% in the next 12 months. That will cause consumers to search for a variety of problems and solutions for issues like relationships and sleep. He also predicts that other products related to anxiety will grow. For example:
Zimmer of Spate told me, ‚Äúbrands need to empathize with consumers‚Äô anxieties and explore new ways to create calming effects. He points out that brands like Recess, a drink whose landing page shows a calming sky and the clear words, ‚Äúwe canned a feeling,‚ÄĚ are created with ‚Äúadaptogens for balance and clarity.‚ÄĚ
According to Signals Analytics, mental health stands out as an emerging cross-category trend in the food and beverage industry right now. Hemp and charcoal-infused waters that emphasize their detoxification and relaxation properties are taking ever-increasing shelf space. Magnesium, although not a new ingredient, is also growing rapidly now because of its sleep-inducing properties.
Here‚Äôs a product class that won‚Äôt grow: fidget spinners. They were created to help nervous people but they were just a passing fad. The search terms for those items are down in a big way right now.
The news at the top of this article makes sense. People with high anxiety levels are less likely to engage in risky behavior. They‚Äôre too worried to do it.
I have been wondering for some time why the term ‚Äúwellness‚ÄĚ has exploded in the last several years. This data is the answer. The constant, pressing need that anxious people feel is the reason why brands and retailers are taking a different marketing approach. It is not just about CBD or other cannabis-related products, although that‚Äôs part of it. It‚Äôs about communicating how everyday items can be soothing. It is part of the explanation of why the beauty business has exploded with growth and why consumers in that market keep looking for small, independent brands that will solve their appearance issues. It‚Äôs part of why nutrition information has become more important to almost everyone. And it‚Äôs part of why social causes have become important for brands to comment on and be a part of. Being associated with calming anxiety feels good to people and it‚Äôs more necessary now than it has ever been.
There‚Äôs no definitive data about why teens are more anxious or worried. Of course they use social media more and that has a plus and minus side. 45% of teens say social media makes them feel judged and 38% report feeling bad about themselves as a result of social media. But a higher percentage, 55%, say it provides a feeling of support. For what it‚Äôs worth, my generation was the first to grow up with TV available all the time in virtually every home. We were told it would melt our brains or make us antisocial or have other terrible consequences but the generation survived intact. Today teenagers are having more social interactions electronically and like TV, fear of the unknown and new may be driving concerns, we‚Äôre just going to have to wait to see how this new form of interacting evolves. We know that loneliness is a significant mortality risk. But whether being connected only electronically constitutes loneliness has not been established.
Girls are more likely than boys to say they plan to attend a four-year college and they are also more likely to feel tense or nervous about their day almost every day. 61% of teens said they felt ‚Äúa lot‚ÄĚ of pressure to get good grades.
It‚Äôs not just teenagers who suffer from depression. The World Health Organization said that between 2005 and 2015 depression in the world increased by 18.4%.
In an article on Medium.com, Erica Orange, Jared Weiner and Eshanthi Ranasinghe say that technology can not only bring problems for anxiety, it can bring solutions too. There is virtual reality therapy, online chat to mental health professionals, videogames for kids with ADHD, artificial intelligence solutions to help mental health professionals and numerous other tech fixes in the works.
There are also ways for businesses to help people with anxiety by providing products that bring comfort. And not all is lost ‚ÄĒ even with all their elevated anxiety and less interest in doing risky things, 75% of people aged 15-21 feel hopeful about their own future. Thoughtful brands will be part of making that brighter future a reality.