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Why Young Adults Struggle

“The struggle is real.” Despite its playful intentions, the phrase depicts a reality for some. The transition to adulthood can be a challenge for young adults as they navigate new independence and responsibilities.

In 2018, only 60% of students were completing a college degree in six years — beyond the time the program is expected to take. More than half of students enrolled in college drop out. On top of that, one in five millennials is now living with their parents. The non-clinical term for this phenomenon is “failure to launch.”

While this inability to transition into adulthood can occur for many different reasons, mental health may play a significant role.

What Causes Failure to Launch

“Some young adults who did well as children in a structured environment now find themselves in an unstructured environment, and they struggle to make sense of it all,” says Allison Johnsen, LCPC, BCC, a licensed clinical professional counselor and board-certified coach at Northwestern Medicine.

Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, ADHD and bipolar disorder, along with a variety of psychosocial factors, can interfere with a young adult’s ability to live independently. “Change is the only constant as a young adult is transitioning to the next step,” says Johnsen. “On a biological level, the brain is still changing and getting rid of lesser-used neuro networks to make the brain more efficient.”

These changes can contribute to the emotional and mental health of an individual. This is also a time during which certain mental illnesses emerge, particularly bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as well as depression and anxiety. And while the emergence of these continue to be an area of interest for research, it is suggested that it occurs during the brain’s maturation.

As a coping mechanism, young adults may turn to alcohol or drugs. This could pave the way to addiction, with consequences impacting both emotional and financial stability.

What Parents Can Do

Given the number of reasons why your loved one could be struggling, it’s important to seek an assessment from a mental health practitioner in order to determine the most clinically effective treatment. Counseling provides support to get your loved one back on track.

“Part of the plan in empowering a young adult is to help them move forward, whether it’s supporting them, informing them of how to take the next step or providing them with a mentor,” says Johnsen. “A combination of medication, therapy and supportive coaching can be a powerful treatment.”

It can also be beneficial to strengthen their connection with social contacts. Young adults may begin to feel left behind when they start to see their peers going to college, moving away or forming new relationships. By connecting with others, they’ll understand they’re not alone in their struggles.

Targeted Support for Young Adults

Johnsen suggests enrolling them in a therapeutic program, like the Young Adult Track, which is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of young adults ages 18 to 25 who may not be reaching their full potential. The program provides a sense of comradery, helping participants feel more hopeful and less isolated from their peer group.

Additionally, the program offers resource coaching to help participants establish goals, and the structure and skills to support them. “Active problem-solving can help someone work toward a goal in the future and take concrete steps toward adult developmental goals,” explains Johnsen. “We empower people to look at obstacles as part of life, but also hold them accountable to take action steps toward the goals they have chosen.”

If a loved one exhibits signs of “failure to launch” due to mental health obstacles, consider starting a conversation to tell them that help is available. Consult your physician or a mental health practitioner regarding behavioral health services. They can guide you to programs designed especially for young adults navigating transitions to adult independence.

Behavioral Health Services