My name is Evan Baker and I am a Licensed Master Social Worker employed at Rikers Island Jail where I work as a mental health clinician. I have been employed at Rikers Island for five years. I have written a book titled Rikers Island Theories of Racism as well as struggled with homelessness and poverty. Although I have worked with all age groups incarcerated in this jail, I have a particular focus on working with patients aged 17 to early adulthood. Recently, I have been running the dialectical behavioral therapy program for adolescents housed in the solitary confinement punitive segregation unit.
When understanding the mental health issues associated with young adults, it is particularly helpful to have an understanding of the adult transitional fazes outlined by Daniel Levinson. Levinson found that young adults from age 17 to 22 are at a point where for the first time they are forced to make adult decisions about love, occupation, friendship, value and lifestyle. This is very important to understand when working with this age group as these decisions have a huge impact on how the person will function mentally as well as physically in society.
A person who is 17 years old was only seven years old ten years ago and only ten years old seven years ago. A person who is 22 was only ten years old twelve years ago. This is important to understand when dealing with young adults of this age group. When a therapist or mental health professional allows themselves to make a cognitive awareness of this fact, it becomes more clear the rational and pathology of many mental health issues faced by this group. Such issues often include depression, anxiety, substance abuse as well as anti-social behavior.
In our society, as in most if not all societies, we are forced into a world of adulthood without any experience. When we turn eighteen, we are told we are adults. However, what experience do we have as adults when just eight years ago we were ten years old? We are reminded that we now have to take responsibility for ourselves. Learn a trade, go to college or suffer the consequences of failure in society. However, what skills does someone have who is eighteen or twenty two or even twenty five? An 18 year old has no skills unless of course the person has been in the profession since age 10. Most likely, however, the young adult is thrown into this world without out any skills that would allow him or her to buy a home, pay a mortgage or afford just about any luxury or necessity to function properly in mainstream society. At age twenty-five, the person may have a few years of experience on how to become a professional but few years of professional experience that would allow for a major role in adult society. Although some may argue that there are people at age twenty-five who are established well enough to have a stable life, it is important to understand that there is a considerable amount of pressure on young people to obtain this level of social affluence.
Many people I work with, if not all, have had extremely difficult transitions into adulthood. A number of psychosocial stressors contribute to this phenomena. Such stressors include parents or other adults that do not know how or have the resources to provide a stable transition into adulthood. These resources include, but or not limited to, a career that can be transferred to the young adult as well as financial support. Even with these gifts, young adults are still inexperienced in adulthood. For instance, a person this age group may have never known what it was like to pay their taxes or rent or pay for their own food. Yet, they have been forced to take on this role of adult practically overnight.
As a result of these responsibilities bestowed on to young people, many people find themselves struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse as well as anti-social behavior. When we force our society at a young age to take on responsibilities that there is no way they can possibly respond to in any meaningful way, we create hopelessness. When we force people to earn a living when there is no possible way for them to find a career, we create anxiety. How is someone supposed to find employment with no experience? Further, how is someone expected to create a career without fully knowing what career they want? With the need to support themselves, what legal route for income is available to someone who has all these questions to answer?
As mental health professionals, it is important to validate the person. In the case of young adults, it is important to make them aware that they are under this tremendous amount of pressure. We must be careful not to become the society that is rejecting them by letting them know that it is not abnormal to feel depressed or have the feelings of anxiety that they suffer. Validation is important because it allows the person to become more free in their thinking. Such freedom in thought will allow the person to explore avenues of self that will allow them to become that functioning member in society that we demand them to be at age eighteen.