JONATHAN HAIDT: Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest.
In conclusion, I believe that Greg Lukianoff was exactly right in the diagnosis he shared with me in 2014. Many young people had suddenly—around 2013—embraced three great untruths:
They came to believe that they were fragile and would be harmed by books, speakers, and words, which they learned were forms of violence (Great Untruth #1).
They came to believe that their emotions—especially their anxieties—were reliable guides to reality (Great Untruth #2).
They came to see society as comprised of victims and oppressors—good people and bad people (Great Untruth #3).
Liberals embraced these beliefs more than conservatives. Young liberal women adopted them more than any other group due to their heavier use of social media and their participation in online communities that developed new disempowering ideas. These cognitive distortions then caused them to become more anxious and depressed than other groups. Just as Greg had feared, many universities and progressive institutions embraced these three untruths and implemented programs that performed reverse CBT on young people, in violation of their duty to care for them and educate them….
We are now 11 years into the largest epidemic of adolescent mental illness ever recorded. I know so many families that have been thrown into fear and turmoil by a child’s suicide attempt. You probably do too, given that the recent CDC report tells us that one in ten adolescents now say they have made an attempt to kill themselves. It is hitting all political and demographic groups. The evidence is abundant that social media is a major cause of the epidemic, and perhaps the major cause. It’s time we started treating social media and other apps designed for “engagement” (i.e., addiction) like alcohol, tobacco, and gambling, or, because they can harm society as well as their users, perhaps like automobiles and firearms. Adults should have wide latitude to make their own choices, but legislators and governors who care about mental health, women’s health, or children’s health need to step up.
The “Reverse CBT” reference is to this:
In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen “cognitive distortions,” such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. Thinking in these ways causes depression, as well as being a symptom of depression. Breaking out of these painful distortions is a cure for depression.
What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. 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 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.
I think it’s an excellent point. Plus:
I have italicized Filipovic’s text about the benefits of feeling like you captain your own ship because it points to a psychological construct with a long history of research and measurement: Locus of control. As first laid out by Julian Rotter in the 1950s, this 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.
I’m somewhat familiar with this since Helen’s dissertation involved locus of control. I have to say that if you wanted to set up an undercover project to destroy the confidence, emotional health, and intellectual integrity of young Americans, you’d probably create the social media/mass media/academia axis that we have today, and that Haidt describes in this piece, which is much longer than these brief excerpts.