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Is Social Justice Ideology Bad for You?

Is Social Justice Ideology Bad for You?

In their universally acclaimed 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff show that the youth mental health crisis has its origins in bad thinking on school campuses.

For example, schools and universities often encourage students to see life as a struggle between good and bad people. As a result, young people are unprepared to cope with the many tragedies that arise when people with good intentions make the world worse. Anxiety is a natural response to a world that does not make sense to you.

In the years since the book’s publication in 2018, the mental health of American youth has only worsened. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 20 percent of teens and young adults said they had a major depressive episode in 2023. That’s double the rate from 2012. And concerningly, it’s almost three times as high as the rate among adults over the age of 25.

Why are young people suffering from poor mental health at such high rates? Recently, Greg Lukianoff analyzed the results of FIRE’s (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) 2024 College Free Speech Rankings to see if the predictions made in The Coddling of the American Mind prove true.

Lukianoff is FIRE’s president and CEO, so he is directly involved in the organization’s yearly college free speech rankings. For the 2024 rankings, FIRE surveyed over 55,000 college students at 254 schools. And interestingly enough, the survey included five questions about mental health. The results are shocking.

Social justice fundamentalism is making young people anxious, depressed, and unhappy. Here’s what the data show.

One would expect that students who identified at the political extremes might have equally poor mental health. After all, extreme positions can isolate you from friends and family. But the data don’t show equal results for very liberal and very conservative students. They don’t even show similar results.

Instead, the data show an unmistakable correlation between left-wing political views and poor mental health. And the converse is also true: the more conservative students were, the better their self-reported mental health was. Even students who identified as politically moderate had worse self-reported mental health than students who identified  as very conservative.

And it’s not even close. No less than 57 percent of very liberal students said they have poor mental health at least half the time. At the other side of the spectrum, 35 percent of very conservative students reported having poor mental health at least half the time. As the graph below shows, even slightly liberal students report having poor mental health at least half the time.

Percent of students with poor self-reported mental health by ideology Lukianoff is far from being the only researcher to find a significant correlation between leftism and poor mental health. But what is equally interesting is that the burden of poor mental health does not fall equally on all people with similar ideologies.

In FIRE’s survey, students could identify as being male, female, or non-binary. The data show that while only 41 percent of very liberal males have poor mental health, 60 percent of very liberal females and 70 percent of very liberal non-binary students do. While women are more likely to suffer from depression than men, the disparity in the general population is significantly smaller than FIRE found in very liberal students.

What does this mean? According to Lukianoff, the data strongly support the thesis presented in The Coddling of the American Mind. He argues that the social justice fundamentalism that has dominated liberal circles on college campuses encourages students to adopt a “depressing and anxiety producing worldview.”

Lukianoff thinks social justice fundamentalists promote a perspective “in which the world is utterly dominated by impersonal forces, against which human beings are simply objects that are acted upon rather than people with agency. Within this framework, individuals understandably don’t really feel like they have an internalized locus of control—or an ability to guide the course of their own lives.”

The result? Profound suffering for tens of millions of left-wing Americans who have been cut off from joy in the flower of their youth.

Image credits: FIRE/Greg Lukianoff (graph); Unsplash (featured image)

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Adam De Gree
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  • Avatar
    MARIE J ALSBERGAS
    June 19, 2024, 10:45 pm

    I am glad to find that my return to conservative thoughts has a basis in developing my return to happiness. Solipsistic perhaps, but I feel better about myself and my place in the world when I am not forcing myself to cooperate with leftist propaganda, which seemed to be against my better judgment but politically expedient.

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    • Avatar
      Luis@MARIE J ALSBERGAS
      June 24, 2024, 1:37 am

      And, Marie, such a beautiful name you have, we, this committed traditional Catholic family, are very glad to know that we have never departed from "conservative thoughts" as a way to regain "happiness."

      So, we say, "WELCOME BACK!!! "

      Amen, amen!

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  • Avatar
    Jim
    June 20, 2024, 6:20 am

    Which leads to the question: is poor mental health a symptom of liberalism or the cause of liberalism? Is it possible people with poor mental health think that pursuing liberal agendas that coddle and protect selected groups while denigrating others will help them somehow? If that's the case then they've entered a feedback loop that is only going to make things worse for them!

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    • Avatar
      Luis@Jim
      June 24, 2024, 1:48 am

      Jim, you know the answer question, and you knew the answer when you asked it: Modern liberalism, progressivism, moral relativism, subjectivism ABSOLUTELY CONTRIBUTE TO THE MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS OF LESSER-ADVANTAGED FOLKS, BUT THE RESULTS OF ALL OF THAT IS THAT ALL OF THAT CONTRIBUTES TO SENSIBLE PEOPLE FINDING THE TRUE FOUNDATIONS OF THEIR VERY NATURAL, MORALLY PRODUCED, INCLINATI0NS.
      But even so, we are glad you asked.

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  • Avatar
    Paul Malvern
    June 20, 2024, 1:01 pm

    The reality is that the Left is not a monolithic entity. Rather it includes many different types of people. While some are well balanced and healthy, others may be trying to work out their personal issues via the political process. Such individuals are almost by definition not happy people. Also constantly forcussing on what's wrong with the world is not good for your mental health and definitely not the way you find peace and contentment.

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