Generation Z and Mental Health
Members of Generation Z — individuals born between 1997 and 2012 — are growing up in an age of increased stress and anxiety. Some 70% of teens across all genders, races and family-income levels say that anxiety and depression are significant problems among their peers, according to the Pew Research Center.
Generation Z Battles Anxiety and Depression
Just 45% of Gen Zers report that their mental health is very good or excellent, according to the American Psychological Association. All other generation groups fared better on this statistic, including Millennials (56%), Gen Xers (51%) and Boomers (70%).
While Generation Z has been called the most depressed generation, members of this group are more likely than their older peers to seek out mental health counseling or therapy. Some 37% of Gen Zers — a higher rate than any previous generation — report having worked with a mental health professional. Still, access to care remains a problem. In 2019, for example, only 43% of youth ages 12 to 19 with a major depressive episode received mental health treatment.
Why Is Generation Z So Depressed?
Gen Z faces chronic stress from many factors including school shootings, student debt, joblessness and even politics.
Technology plays a role, too. Growing up in a hyper-connected world can evoke intense feelings of isolation and loneliness in some youth. It can also fuel a steady drumbeat of negative news stories, a fear of missing out, and shame in falling short of a social media-worthy standard.
Instagram, for instance, has been found to negatively impact the mental health of teenagers, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The popular photo-based social media platform is particularly hard on young women; it is credited with worsening body image issues for 1 in every 3 teenage girls, the report says.
Generation Z and Suicide
The suicide rate for individuals of all ages in the United States increased 30% from 2000 to 2016 and peaked for youth in 2017, according to a new study by the JAMA Network of medical journals. Contributing to the high youth depression and suicide rates in America are social media use and a greater willingness of families and officials to acknowledge suicide as a cause of death, the JAMA study authors said.
Data shows that suicide rates vary across genders, LGBTQ status and races or ethnicities.
Girls and young women are more likely to plan and attempt suicide, but males are more likely to die by suicide per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey and Leading Causes of Death. In 2020, for instance, males accounted for 80% of suicides among youth ages 15–24.
American Indian or Alaska Native youth ages 15–24 have the highest suicide rate compared to other racial/ethnic groups, and while rates are lower for Black youth, leaders have been calling attention to concerning increases for this group. In addition, the latest data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that an alarming 9% of U.S. high schoolers attempted suicide in 2019; this figure was even higher for Black students (12%) and those of two or more races (13%), and it was nearly three times higher for American Indian or Alaska Native students (26%). Gen Zers of color are also more likely than their white peers to encounter issue-specific stress, such as fears tied to food insecurity, housing instability or debt.
Too many young people experience added stress due to discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2020, 3.7 million kids ages 3 to 17 (5%) reportedly had been treated or judged unfairly based on their race or ethnicity, and 649,000 (1%) based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Further, a 2022 national survey revealed that 36% of LGBTQ young people ages 13 to 24 have been physically threatened or hurt due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Suicide attempts are tragically high for gay, lesbian or bisexual high school students, as well, at 23% in 2019, compared to 6% for heterosexual students.
The vast majority of LGBTQ youth say that they want mental health care, but most are not able to get it, according to the 2022 survey noted above. The barriers they list illustrate that too many youth lack the support they need, including fears of discussing concerns (48%), getting permission to access care (45%), not being taken seriously (43%) and being misunderstood (26%). They also reported a lack of affordable care (41%) and transportation to care (21%), among other issues.
For young people from historically underrepresented communities, including American Indian and Alaska Native youth, drawing on cultural roots through evidence-based programs offer the greatest opportunities for preventing suicide. The U.S. Surgeon General’s 2021 call to action to implement the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention also outlines effective strategies to address this crisis.
Explore data on teen deaths by accident, homicide or suicide by state, as well as how to reduce the teen death rate.
Mental Health and Mental Health Care for Generation Z People of Color
In communities of color, mental illness and mental health care is often stigmatized.
University of Texas at Austin professor Melissa DuPont-Reyes surveyed 667 sixth-graders from an urban school system in Texas. She found that girls and white boys were more knowledgeable and positive about mental illness and care when compared to boys and youth of color.
People of color are more likely to suppress, downplay or ignore their emotions altogether, and youth of color are less likely to receive mental health care according to research. Mental illness in these communities can incur a badge of shame, and — even when Black, American Indian and Latino youth opt to seek help — they may struggle to find a professional who understands their unique cultural backgrounds and concerns, or they may struggle due to limited access to or affordability of services.
A lack of mental health services for adolescents in communities of color elevates their risk of developing depression. Racial and ethnic disparities in health insurance coverage plays a role, too, as more people of color lack the resources to get the help they need.
COVID-19’s Effect on Generation Z’s Mental Health
COVID-19 has had a significant impact — already — on Generation Z. The pandemic has radically changed their educational and social experiences. It shifted learning online. Destabilized economies. Robbed young people of a parent or loved one. And prompted some older siblings to juggle new roles as teachers and caregivers for their families.
Unsurprisingly, mental health concerns have climbed during the pandemic. Across the world, rates of depression and anxiety rose by more than 25% in 2020, according to research published in the Lancet. Younger age groups saw greater increases than older groups, with 20- to 24-year-olds enduring the largest leaps of all. In the United States, the rate of depression climbed in 2021 to nearly 33% — with 1 in every 3 Americans age 18 or older affected, per a study out of Boston University.
Gen Zers include children below age 18, too, and the National Survey of Children’s Health found that the number of kids ages 3 to 17 with anxiety or depression jumped by more than 1.5 million between 2016 and 2020, from 5.8 million to 7.3 million (or about 9% to 12%).
Read more about how the pandemic is disrupting the lives of children and families.
How Employment Stress During COVID-19 Impacted Gen Z’s Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an economic crisis that is changing the world of work for young people.
One study, conducted with June 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau data, determined that 59% of young adults ages 18 to 26 had experienced direct or household unemployment since the start of the pandemic and 38% were anticipating such a loss in the next four weeks. The same study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that this impending or actual employment loss was associated with a greater risk of poor mental health.
Many recent college graduates are in “survival mode” after having their job offers rescinded or put on hold, reports CNBC. Entering the job market during a pandemic — and at a time when unemployment rates remain high — is even forcing some members of Generation Z to look for jobs outside of their envisioned career path.
How Education Stress During COVID-19 Impacted Gen Z’s Mental Health
Schools act as a safety net for many young people and families. They offer engaging learning environments but also consistent meals, medical screenings and support services. In some areas, schools are the only source of mental health services for young people — particularly for individuals who identify as LGBTQ and for individuals from low-income households or families of color.
When the pandemic hit, millions of teachers and students across the country shifted to remote learning. This drastic change altered and — in some cases — erased the broader benefits that schools supply. It also separated students from their familiar social structures and networks.
This new normal wasn’t easy. Nearly 3 in 10 parents surveyed in a May 2020 Gallup poll said that their child was “experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and school closures while 45% cited separation from teachers and classmates as a “major challenge.”
Young people who identify as LGBTQ have found the pandemic especially challenging, early research suggests. In one study, 50% of LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17 and 65% of transgender and nonbinary youth said that COVID-19 impacted their ability to express their sexual identity. This same study found that 81% of LGBTQ youth described their living situation during the pandemic as more stressful than it was pre-pandemic.
Remote learning also required students to obtain — and fast — certain supplies, such as computers, printers and reliable internet service. Some students, including students of color and students from low-income households, had a harder time securing these new school staples, as noted in a 2021 U.S. Department of Education report. For example: By summer 2020, nearly 1 in 3 teachers surveyed in majority Black schools reported that their students lacked the technology necessary to take part in virtual instruction. Only 1 in 5 teachers reported these same difficulties in majority white schools.
More Resources on Generation Z
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