Writing my last book, Irreversible Damage, involved extensive interviews with many detransitioners and American families in general. In the course of my research, I became aware of three things: First, that unprecedented numbers of American kids were undergoing therapy or on psychiatric medication. Second, that therapists’ diagnoses were often altering adolescents’ self-understanding. And, third, that large numbers of parents had become profoundly dependent on therapists to guide their parenting and “fix” their kids.
When faced with a surly teen who isn’t yours, one you must somehow keep engaged for a potentially interminable 50-minute hour, and for whose mistakes you bear no direct emotional consequences—it’s just so easy to validate their perspective. Her mother’s decision to take away the smartphone, her pet’s death, her parents’ move—how did they make you feel? Let’s talk about your pain, every week, for years.
The rising generation is swimming in therapy. Forty two percent of Gen Z—those born between 1995 and 2012—has been in therapy (more than any other generation). Forty two percent has a mental health diagnosis. One recent survey indicates the extent of diagnosis may even be more dramatic: 60 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 26 may have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Perhaps most alarming, by 2016—long before the Covid lockdowns and well before American kids aged 2 to 8 were even on social media—almost 20% of these little ones had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
They are receiving unprecedented levels of mental health treatment. Curiously, they also seem to be getting worse.