Generation Z and Mental Health
Sociological studies are rarely tear-jerkers, but this one is. Harmony Healthcare IT surveyed over one thousand 18- to 24-year-olds, members of Generation Z, about their mental health. The results are heartbreaking.
The Mental Health of Gen Z
Forty-two percent have a diagnosed mental health condition, and of those 57% are taking medication for their problems. Doing the math: one in four Gen Zers takes psychiatric medication.
The study reports, “Nearly a third (31%) of Gen Zers would rate their overall mental health in 2022 as bad. When asked to describe their mental health over the period of one month, one out of four reported having more bad days than good. On average, Gen Z reported about ten tough mental health days in the span of one month.”
The biggest struggle is anxiety, affecting nine out of ten Gen Zers with a mental health diagnosis. Second at 78% — nearly eight out of ten — is depression. Added to that are ADHD (27%), PTSD (20%), OCD (17%), eating disorders (14%), insomnia (12%), bipolar disorder (8%), borderline personality disorder (7%), and addiction and substance abuse (6%).
One in five Gen Zers goes to therapy with 39% going once a week. And while 63% of all Gen Z feel comfortable talking about their mental health, their comfort is greatest with “acquaintances.” They are least comfortable with teachers, grandparents, bosses, or religious leaders.
A Social Media World
Gen Z never knew a world without social media and the study found that on average they spend four hours a day at social media sites. While the average starting age was twelve, 18% started at ten or younger.
This forms a large part of the problem. According to an article at Anxiety.org:
YouTube and other social media sites are central to many adolescents’ self-presentation and self-promotion strategies, or how they attempt to create a desired impression of themselves to others. Aside from the pitfalls of creating a successfully strong online identity, a recent study suggests that increased social media use is also associated with depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance.
Given all I’ve reported, it’s small wonder that the study found “Gen Z is worried about the future. Nearly 90% of Gen Z does not feel like their generation has been set up for success, and 75% feel they have a disadvantage compared to other generations.” While personal finances and the economy are the top two worries about the future, “50% do not feel ready to join the workforce.”
Pre-Covid Suicide Rates
And while the Harmony Heath study did not include suicide, the Walton Family Foundation reported, “For people ages 10 to 24, suicide rates increased almost 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents rose 31% from 2019 to 2020, the CDC also reported.” Note the data is pre-COVID, the event that 75% of Gen Z said “has negatively impacted their mental health.”
Too often articles like this describe an enormous problem like this one and leave it. I don’t want to do that. “What can we do?” seems too big a question so let me reflect on what I think I can do. Perhaps you can do the same.
What I Can Do
First, this study is sad news about needy people. I can let that sink in and cultivate compassion and love.
Second, I can pray — perhaps using the prayer of Sirach (36:6): “Give new signs and work new wonders; / Show forth the splendor of Your right hand and arm.” Gen Z — like every generation before it and after it — needs Jesus. I can ask for the successful evangelization of Gen Z and do my part which includes …
Third, I can make friends. As Teddy Roosevelt put it, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” The relationships I have with our Gen Z students at Wyoming Catholic College are a great pleasure to me and, it seems, to them as well. I can reach out and be a friend.
Finally, I can tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In his new book about evangelism, Renewing Our Hope, Bishop Robert Barron writes, “The dumbing down of the faith has been a pastoral disaster, significantly contributing to the mass exodus of two generations from the Church. A childish, intellectually shallow religion simply cannot stand in the face of the trials of life and the questions of an adult mind.”
If I can’t think of what to say, I can begin with what Pope St. John Paul II told the young:
Only in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ. When you wonder about the mystery of yourself, look to Christ who gives you the meaning of life. When you wonder what it means to be a mature person, look to Christ who is the fullness of humanity. And when you wonder about your role in the future of the world and of the United States, look to Christ. Only in Christ will you fulfill your potential as an American citizen and as a citizen of the world community.
James Tonkowich, a senior contributor to The Stream, is a freelance writer, speaker and commentator on spirituality, religion and public life. He is the author of The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today and Pears, Grapes, and Dates: A Good Life After Mid-Life. Jim serves as Director of Distance Learning at Wyoming Catholic College and is host of the college’s weekly podcast, “The After Dinner Scholar.”