The “Z” Generation and Mental Health

March is National Teen Mental Health Wellness Month!  Generally, it represents the “Z” generation.

First, you may ask, “What indeed is the ‘Z’ generation”?  According to The Pew Research Center, Generation Z includes those that have had “different formative experiences” than the previous generations; including those born between 1997 and 2012. 

Then, you may ask , “What are those ‘different formative experiences’ that have affected this group of young people”?  Pew Research as well as other research groups have listed numerous experiences that likely have impacted this generation

  • For one thing, this generation experienced the impact of the financial and subsequent emotional struggles of the Great 2008 Recession, with increased family stress and anxiety, as well as its personal effects, such as a surge of latch-key practices and working parents, inability to afford college or carry a large debt load upon graduation from a higher educational program.  They are also experiencing current fears of another financial crisis looming with falling markets.
  • In addition, some claim that those in the “Z” generation have been the only generation thus far that has not experienced any time in their lives in which the US has not been at war.  With the onset being 911, they were either exposed themselves or experienced the reactions of others.  Inside US, they have also been more exposed to fears of sexual assault, abuse, school shootings and street/gang fighting, climate change, political rivalry and escalation, increased exposure to international crises, a decreased spiritual faith, and now a pre-pandemic virus. 
  • The Z generation has also been the first to actively take part of booming technological developments and the widespread availability of wireless internet access, creating insurmountable information and social media opportunities, expansive network throughout the world and in a vast assortment of developments. Some believe the lack of face-to-face contact and obsessive on-line participation has significantly impacted Generation Z.

Lastly, you may ask; “What does any of this have to do with mental health”?   As we draw closer to better understanding this age group and its “different formative experiences”, is it surprising to learn that Gen Z has the “worst mental health of any generation”, according to the American Psychological Association?!!  A recent Economist publication also reported that Generation Z was considered to be the most … stressed and depressed generation in comparison to previous ones” in addition to  CNN Health reporting that “’Generation Z’ exhibited the most mental health problems”. 

Although, overall the Z generation has also declared a commitment to making a difference and achieve a healthier lifestyle, they are also a generation that is struggling with the same, and even more, issues than previous generations.  However, their young adult’s brains are still maturing and they haven’t developed enough to handle the stress most adults do, and have not had the life experiences that many adults have had.  Let’s actively participate in Teen Mental Health Month and lend a hand to the Z’s. 

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW