Gen Z Mental Health: How They Get Help
It’s no secret that the decline in mental health among young people has reached epidemic levels. Yet, Generation Z also has unprecedented numbers of chronic stressors, including political turmoil, school shootings, economic shifts and most recently, the emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the intensity of the effects can vary from person to person, technology can also impact mental health for Gen Z. Being “always connected” during a stage of life where biological, mental, physical and emotional development is still in full swing can be an added challenge.
When we asked young people ages 13-25 about their mental and emotional well-being, only 24% said they were “flourishing a lot”. So how does Gen Z seek support for improving their mental health? Springtide’s research on young people, faith and mental health shows that religion and spirituality does help Gen Zers deal with their mental health, but it’s just one tool in the proverbial toolbox. Many first turn to their friends. Seventy-two percent of young people we surveyed said that their friend groups were comfortable talking to each other about mental health issues, including their own. In one of our interviews, Mick said:
So I think when I think about the people that I talk about my mental health to…I think [about] my friends, and I think about the people that I rooted into here in college that are really the people that support me in that way. I find myself putting on a different mask when I go home to talk to my parents …even [if] I’m having an open conversation with them, it’s still very censored and it’s not as real as the conversations that I have with my friends and people that you trust in general, just because of how similar the situations may be or how much further they are to understand what you’re going through compared to your parents or an older generation.
Only 34% of the young people we talked to agreed with the statement “I’m comfortable talking to the adults in my life about mental health issues, including my own”. Some felt that adults may stigmatize mental health or not take their concerns seriously, while others were worried about issues of power and authority within those relationships. Yet, some young people noted they did have good experiences talking to older people about their mental health, and those experiences included support and validation. Kim talked about her school counselor in an interview:
I was telling her how [I had] relatives pass away because of COVID and while I was telling her this, I just started crying, but then she actually validated my experiences. She was like, ‘oh thank you for telling me this. And these are the ways in which we can help you.’ She directed me to mental health resources, and she sent an email to university counseling to ask for appointment availability.
Many young people also recognize when simply talking to loved ones isn’t enough. More than any other generation, today’s young people report a greater willingness to talk about their mental health and seek treatment from counselors and therapists. Forty-two percent of the young people we surveyed said they currently or had seen a mental health professional. Thirty percent said they’d been medicated or undergone hospitalization to treat their mental health challenges.
Mental health professionals
Young people said “yes” to the following statements:
Did/does your mental health professional address religion/spirituality in your treatment?
It is important to me that a mental health counselor shares the same racial or ethnic background as me
It is important to me that a mental health counselor shares the same religious or spiritual beliefs as me
I would feel uncomfortable if a mental health counselor, who does not share my racial or ethnic background, talks about my identity too much
It is important to me that a mental health counselor offer services in my native language
While there’s a willingness to get help, access to that support is often an obstacle. Without insurance, securing therapy can be a costly endeavor. Digital apps designed to reduce anxiety and depression can be part of the solution, and more comprehensive solutions, such as subscription-based apps like Talkspace can still be too expensive for some. Many young people have turned to Tik Tok and other social media to learn more about mental health. While there’s always the concern of misinformation, hearing the stories of others struggling or succeeding with their mental health and learning from therapists posting content can serve as a source of support.
Young people may be experiencing mental health challenges at higher rates than their predecessors, but they’re willing to be vocal about it and get help. For adults, their role in this effort is to ensure young people feel safe and secure enough to talk about concerns, and to help young people secure professional support when needed.