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Is new strain of paranoid leftism making American teens, young adults sick?

A paper published in December by researchers at Columbia University found that teens whose political ideologies lean left are far more prone to depression than teens with more conservative beliefs. 

Published: March 13, 2023 6:45pm

Updated: March 17, 2023 11:33pm

Amid an epidemic of despair and depression sweeping through American adolescents, media and political attention has settled largely on social media and pandemic-era social distancing as culprits. All the while, an accumulating body of evidence has been quietly signaling an additional mental health risk factor many would prefer to sweep under the rug: a modern version of leftist ideology that portrays a frightening world imperiled by dangers ranging from pervasive "white supremacy" and existential "threats to our democracy" to imminent environmental doom.

Tens of millions of American teenagers are miserable. Teenage girls, according to a recent CDC report, published on Feb. 13, are particularly miserable. 

Roughly 60% of U.S. teen girls have persistent feelings of sadness and despair — double the rate of boys. Close to three million teenage girls contemplated suicide in 2021, according to the extensive report. 

The social isolation imposed by harshly restrictive COVID-19 mitigation strategies certainly made things worse, but rates of teen depression were rising long before the pandemic brought the country to a screeching halt. 

Research clearly shows that teens who spend more time online are more likely to suffer from various mental health issues. Teen girls spend 40 minutes more a day than boys on social media. That's an extra 4 hours 40 minutes on social media each week; an extra 228 hours, or 9 1/2 days, over a year. 

Apps like Instagram and TikTok, with their dangerously programmed algorithms, certainly appear to be playing a major role in the devastating mental health crisis consuming the country. Although social media platforms are contributing to the crisis, however, they are not the only factors, it seems.

The attitudes, behaviors and ideologies exhibited by primary caregivers have a profound impact on mental well-being of children. This includes parents' political ideologies, which research clearly shows are often passed onto their children and may have a huge impact on how a child sees the world. Indeed, a paper published in December by researchers at Columbia University found that teens whose political ideologies lean left are far more likely to be unhappy than teens with more conservative beliefs. 

Taking both gender and political ideology into account, the paper, titled "The politics of depression: Diverging trends in internalizing symptoms among US adolescents by political beliefs," found:

  • Liberal girls are more prone to depression than more conservative girls. 
  • Conservative boys are the least prone to depressive symptoms. 
  • Liberal boys appear to be considerably more depressed than conservative girls. 

The paper clearly demonstrates the correlation between political ideologies and mental well-being (and lack thereof), although the authors, all experts in epidemiology, maintain that the reasons why liberal boys and girls are so miserable are not clear.

There are varied contributing factors, of course. After all, almost every single teenager is on social media. This includes teenagers who lean left, those who lean right, moderates, and teenagers who lack any political beliefs whatsoever. When it comes to inflicting misery, social media does not discriminate. 

Depression, however, has a genetic component as well as an environmental component. It's a mixture of nature and nurture. Democrats are more likely than conservatives to be depressed, and, as peer-reviewed research shows, depression can be passed onto offspring. For example, research by Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College, shows a strong link between neurotic parenting and neurotic children.  

In a 2020 study drawing on the trove of American attitudinal data gathered by the General Social Survey, Emil O.W. Kirkegaard, a researcher who has examined the links between political beliefs and mental health, found a strong link between liberal beliefs and poorer mental health, one that is not accounted for by variance in socio-economic status. 

"Originally, one could have forwarded a model where mostly low SES people voted left, and these have lower mental health in general (weakly so)," Kirkegaard told Just the News via email. But, he added, "it's no longer the case that left voters or ideology supporters are low SES, and yet the link remains." 

In a meta-analysis "based on the combined index of mental health across all of the years of data," Kirkegaard found extreme liberals had a 150% higher risk of mental illness compared to a reference group of political moderates.

Moving across theideological spectrum, the results showed "a small increase among the liberals and slightly liberals (+29 to 32%), and somewhat lower rates among conservatives and extreme conservatives (-17 to 24%)," Kirkegaard reported. "Breaking the pattern, slightly conservatives had a marginally increased rate (+6%)."

To understand why liberals tend to have poorer mental health, said Kirkegaard, one must consider factors like "neuroticism (conservatives lower), sensitivity to negativity (more or less the same as neuroticism), and religiousness (clear life goals, hope for afterlife etc.)." 

The finding of increased mental illness among left-wingers is congruent with numerous findings based on related constructs, such as positive relationships between conservatism, religiousness, optimism and health in general. A 2017 study published in the journal Psychological Reports, for example, demonstrated that conservatives experience greater levels of satisfaction compared to liberals, thanks to lower levels of neuroticism, a trait that predisposes a person to experience negative emotions, including anger, as well as anxiety, irritability, and depression. Strong life satisfaction is strongly correlated with a higher quality of life.

In a 2021 Psychology Today article, contributor Scott McGreal downplayed the positive correlation between religious faith and mental and physical health, citing research showing that the health benefits of faith are largely limited to cultural contexts in which religion commands great respect and are not readily discernible in more secular settings.

"On the other hand," McGreal acknowledged, "conservatism and liberalism are associated with the personality traits of conscientiousness and neuroticism, respectively, which are more robustly linked with mental health than religiosity."

The debate about the contextual preconditions of the link between religious faith and mental well-being is especially pertinent in connection with the widely noted similarities between woke orthodoxy and religious dogma. Prompted by the growing body of academic literature linking progressive ideology to depression, author Marc Schifanelli undertook a deep dive into the emotional roots of the contemporary left in his 2022 book "Freedom, Emotion and Fascism: A Psycho-Sociological Analysis of the Modern American Progressive Movement." 

"I've seen young people, college-aged and even younger adults, that have been indoctrinated, literally, by the progressive mentality ... and it really is sort of like a sect, and it has been referred to as like a new religion, really, it almost replaces some of the needs that religion fulfills in people's psyche," Schifanelli observed in a recent interview on the John Solomon reports podcast.

Like sectarian dogmatism, Schifarelli explained, today's woke orthodoxy is impervious to reason. It's easy to "poke holes" in progressive doctrine "if you use logic," he said, "which is one reason why progressives love to shout down everybody else, because ultimately their arguments are so fallible that they literally got to shout down everybody to keep them from speaking. Because they can't, in the end, compete with logic and reason."

As cases in point, Schifanelli cited recent leftist efforts to silence conservative activist Charlie Kirk and federal judge Kyle Duncan at University of California Davis and Stanford University, respectively. "It's really a disgrace," he said, "but that's their main tactic."

Going forward, the mental health gap between those on the left and those on the right will only grow, Kirkegaard suggests, as mainstream left ideology in Western countries, the U.S. included, is now fixated on the idea of embracing mental illness "as a kind of in-group marker." 

Ultimately, the way to preserve rising generations from the woke worldview they are being force-fed through the schools and other institutional pillars of American life is simply "getting to them first," says Schifarelli. He urges parents to discuss current events openly at the dinner table and arm their kids with the critical thinking skills they'll need to "see through" the shallow emotionalism of the woke gospel.  

"Talk to your kids early, and let them know that they're not racist, they're not responsible for slavery, they shouldn't feel guilt for this," he said. "And in the book, I do talk about this. I call it a 'faux guilt' that progressives seem to enjoy, you know, feeling guilty for something that they had nothing to do with. Usually when you feel guilty for something, you're responsible for whatever it is that was done wrongfully. And so it's very odd behavior."

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