Are you constantly feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, or walls come closing in? You’re not alone.
Crisis, emergency, pandemic… whatever you call it.
Gen Z is facing some serious mental health challenges, from COVID-19 pandemic-related anxiety/loneliness, existential crisis (global warming, AI, population collapse and more..!?) to the impossible beauty standards of social media.
I do concern about the next generation, especially their emotional health and wellbeing. As a healthcare professional and mental health advocate, I write this article as an attempt to break down the top three mental health concerns facing Gen Z and give you a not-so-gentle nudge to take action now to take care of your mind and body. Statistics and observations from my own professional and personal experiences included, aimed to inspire you to find out what works for you, ultimately designing your own mental health care plan.
🤔 Is Mental Health a Global Pandemic Now?
In 2019, nearly 1 in 8 people worldwide (about 970 million people) had a mental disorder, with anxiety and depression being the most common ones. (1) The COVID-19 pandemic further spiked anxiety and major depressive disorders.
According to a 2020 survey, 70% of Gen Z adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety, 60% reported experiencing symptoms of depression, and 79% reported experiencing stress in the prior month (2).
By the sound of it, mental health concerns became a global pandemic – worldwide spread, huge population being affected. Just because it’s something we may not be able to see doesn’t mean it’s not urgent.
It’s not too late, but it’s never too early.
👉🏻 Prevention Over Cure
It’s time to take mental health seriously. The statistics don’t lie – anxiety, depression, and stress are rampant among Gen Z. But we don’t have to just accept this as the new normal. Early intervention is crucial to addressing these concerns before they spiral out of control. Think about your future self and how your quality of life will improve as a result of taking care of your overall wellbeing.
The Data Speaks for Itself
Early intervention can make all the difference: a 2017 randomised controlled trial concluded that a 6-week cognitive-behavioural training significantly reduced repetitive negative thinking and symptom levels of anxiety and depression; and the effects were maintained until 12-month follow-up (3). An older study found out a group cognitive behavioural prevention program was effective in managing depressive symptoms and preventing onset of depression than those in usual care (4).
The Silver Lining of the COVID-19 Pandemic
There’s one good thing about the pandemic and the current trend among Gen Z – we’re very vocal about different mental health issues and going to therapy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a surge in demand for mental health services, including online therapy. This is due to a range of factors, including social isolation, economic uncertainty, and fear of the virus (5). According to a recent report by the American Psychological Association, Gen Z adults were the most likely to seek mental health services during the pandemic (6). However, people of all ages have been affected by the pandemic and are seeking help (2). As we continue to navigate the pandemic and its aftermath, it’s important to prioritise our mental health and seek help when needed.
There is a significant progress in the destigmatisation of mental health among young people, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has brought mental health issues to the forefront of public conversation, leading to a greater awareness and understanding of the importance of mental health. This has resulted in a shift towards more open and accepting attitudes towards mental health struggles, particularly among Gen Z (5).
Benefits of Change
Taking care of mental health at a young age not only benefits individuals, but also has positive effects on the community as a whole.
Physiologically, taking care of mental health can also have positive effects on the brain. For example, meditation and mindfulness practices have been shown to improve attention, emotion regulation and reduce stress (7).
When we prioritise our well-being, we are better equipped to handle the challenges that come our way, which can lead to increased productivity and better relationships with those around us. We will experience higher levels of job satisfaction, better work performance, and improved relationships with co-workers. By taking care of ourselves, we can create a ripple effect of positive change within our communities.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on with Gen Z. Anxiety, depression, and stress are all too common, but what can we do about it? In this article, we’ll explore innovative and practical ways to tackle these mental health issues. Get ready to learn how to take control of your mental health and well-being.
🥴 Top Mental Health Concerns: Anxiety, Depression and Stress
Anxiety, depression and stress are the top three mental health issues the majority of Gen Z adults were experiencing according to a survey in 2020 (2).
Just because something’s become common doesn’t mean it’s okay.
If left untreated, anxiety, depression, and stress can have serious physical and mental consequences for young adults. In addition to mental health concerns such as decreased quality of life and impaired social functioning, untreated mental health issues can lead to physical health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and weakened immune system (6). It’s crucial to seek help and support as soon as possible to prevent these negative outcomes and improve overall well-being.
Your New Solutions to Old Problems
Okay, anxiety, depression and stress may be nothing new – our ancestors experienced that as well, but from trying to survive in the wild – running from lions and finding food. That said, we have the same physiological responses nowadays when our workload suffocates us, when we feel the peer pressure to get married, or when we consume too much anxiety-inducing news.
Our minds cannot distinguish real life-threatening events anymore.
We all experience some degree of anxiety, depression and stress, which might sometimes benefit us by boosting performance and making meaningful life changes. What isn’t good for our health is prolonged, untreated mental health issues.
This is when new solutions come in.
Music Isn’t Just About Entertainment
We have plenty of options nowadays when it comes to making us feel better.
In particular, music therapy has been shown to be an effective intervention for reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress among young people. Research studies have demonstrated that music therapy can lead to significant improvements in mood and overall well-being (8, 9).
These findings suggest that music therapy can be a valuable tool for addressing mental health concerns among young people. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, try incorporating music therapy into your routine to see if it can help boost your mood and promote relaxation.
🤯 Why Can’t We Pay Attention?
In recent years, there has been growing concern about the attention span crisis among young adults. While it is hard to say whether there’s an actual decline in “average attention span” among young people, there is one thing we all struggle with more than over:
Distraction from digital devices.
It’s both internal and external: our desire to check our phone even when it’s dead silent, and notifications.
We crave for the constant stimulation. Every swipe and refresh resembles people playing slot machines, anticipating the next dopamine hit. We cannot bear with “boredom”. We cannot sit alone with our thoughts for even 5 minutes.
Even when we create the perfect environment to get some deep work done: noise-cancelling headphones, perfect playlist, cafe/library with good vibe, we still can’t seem to be able to concentrate for extended periods of time.
This can have serious consequences for our academic and professional success, not to mention our mental health. When we cannot focus, we don’t get things done properly and achieve our goals. We tap into our creativity and access flow states less often, which impacts our emotional well-being and sense of satisfaction. When we fidget and switch between tasks, we cannot make decisions with a clear mind (5). Our racing thoughts disturb our sleep and increase stress.
Unplug From the World
As much as I’d love to, I’m not here to give you a meditation lecture (in fact, if you’re still reading, you have my utmost respect).
From my personal and professional experience, the quickest way to calm our mind comes down to this: find the best way to unplug from the world.
Take a walk in the nature.
Go to float therapy, if you want something fancy.
Or something more accessible: free guided meditation playlists on YouTube or Spotify.
Taming your mind is a skill. One you can practise and get better at.
Limiting your screen time, putting your phone outside bedroom, muting all notifications won’t actually make you feel calm and focused until you learn how to manage your internal state of mind.
(That said, as I’m writing this, I’ve quit Instagram for two months. My life’s never been better.)
And I believe that there is no clear definition of “mindfulness”: just find what works for you.
💡 Lift Yourself (And Others) Up
The 2022 Mission Australia Youth Survey (10) reflected 27.7% of young people aged between 15 to 19 experienced mental health challenges, namely stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem. Body image ranked the 4th personal concern for young people.
Whether or not the prevalence of social media worsened the situation is not the topic of debate in this article. From my observation of all populations of all ages, there’s a common theme when it comes to health management:
There is no self-development without self-awareness.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a full grown high functioning adult, parent of young children or elderly person capable of using technology. If you don’t know what you put in your mouth, your mind and how your environment and people around you affect your overall wellbeing, this is the sign that you need to take back control now.
Personally speaking, this is how I realised the world around me shaped me to who I am, how I respond to situations and how I see the world:
- Negative self-esteem and body image due to a combination of 1/ lack of education, 2/ being in a private girls high school, 3/ being introduced to social media (particularly Instagram) when it first came out (over a decade now).
- Constant news checking and keeping up with the Joneses made me anxious, easily annoyed, and depressed. My inner voice was drown and I didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted anymore.
- Not aware of sleep patterns, daylight exposure and diet made me wonder why I always felt exhausted and unmotivated.
Do yourself and others a favour, please.
Start building healthy habits and changing the environment to foster growth.
Where to start? Pay attention to your feelings:
- How does scrolling through your newsfeed make you feel?
- What food makes you feel good physically and emotionally?
- Who energises you?
- What activities you truly enjoy doing for their own sake?
Low self-esteem and confidence can have a significant impact on mental health and well-being. Take action now.
It’s not selfish to prioritise self-care. When you are well, you can provide and contribute more. You lift others up.
💙 0 Cost Solution: Going Back to Basics
When in doubt, think of your ancestors and get these four pillars right:
- Face-to-face interactions (everyone needs a tribe)
- Daylight exposure (get outside!) & daily movement
- Fix your sleep
Your overall wellbeing will improve significantly when you get the fundamentals right. Just start functioning like a real human being.
Raising mental health awareness is just the first step of the game. Early intervention is key when it comes to addressing mental health concerns among the younger generation. By taking action and seeking help early on, individuals can improve their long-term outcomes and overall well-being.
💭 Ready to Take Your Wellbeing Seriously?
(1) Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. Global Health Data Exchange (GHDx). https://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-results/
(2) American Psychological Association. (2020). Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october.
(3) Topper, M., Emmelkamp, P. M. G., Watkins, E., & Ehring, T. (2017). Prevention of anxiety disorders and depression by targeting excessive worry and rumination in adolescents and young adults: A randomized controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 90, 123–136. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2016.12.015
(4) Garber, J., Clarke, G. N., Weersing, V. R., Beardslee, W. R., Brent, D. A., Gladstone, T. R., DeBar, L. L., Lynch, F. L., D’Angelo, E., Hollon, S. D., Shamseddeen, W., & Iyengar, S. (2009). Prevention of depression in at-risk adolescents. JAMA, 301(21), 2215. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2009.788
(5) American Psychological Association. (2021). Stress in America™ 2021: Pandemic impedes basic decision-making ability. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2021/10/stress-pandemic-decision-making#:~:text=Younger Americans%2C who were more,and older adults (2.9).
(6) American Psychological Association. (2019). Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z.
(7) Tang, Y.-Y., Hölzel, B. K., & Posner, M. I. (2015). The Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213–225. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn3916
(8) Uhlig, S., Jansen, E., & Scherder, E. (2017). “being a bully isn’t very cool…”: Rap & Sing Music therapy for enhanced emotional self-regulation in an adolescent school setting – a randomized controlled trial. Psychology of Music, 46(4), 568–587. https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735617719154
(9) Archambault, K., Vaugon, K., Deumié, V., Brault, M., Perez, R. M., Peyrin, J., Vaillancourt, G., & Garel, P. (2019). Map: A personalized receptive music therapy intervention to improve the affective well-being of youths hospitalized in a Mental Health Unit. Journal of Music Therapy, 56(4), 381–402. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmt/thz013
(10) Mission Australia . (n.d.). Mission Australia Youth Survey 2022. https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/publications/youth-survey/2618-youth-survey-2022-report/file