A new report suggests that Generation Z (born mid-1990s – early 2000s) are the most likely of all generations to report poor mental health.
The stresses of this youthful generation could be a product of their parents’ experiences when they were young, says Psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD.
Negative news impacting today’s youth
“This is a group whose parents were experiencing 9/11 when they were young – 6 years of age or younger. Our world really changed and we became more sensitive to threat,” Dr. Bea said. “During this time, the news media exploded as more and more people wanted news and we started engaging in more safety behaviors.”
This always-on nature of news has cultivated an inescapable presence of threats. From school shootings to ISIS propaganda to the violence seen on TV – we’ve developed a generation that is fearful and over protected. It’s now to the point that hearing about every possible event – a thief robbing an old lady, gang related crimes, etc. – can cause us to over-estimate our risk.
The need to cope with adversity
This can trickle down to even the smallest of daily occurrences, like conflicts with friends at school. Dr. Bea suggests that when parents step in and fight their children’s battles, it doesn’t allow children to develop a readiness to face adversity.
Much like your body develops biological immunity through exposure to various threats, our psychological system can do the same and develop immunity or a greater tolerance through exposure.
“If we’re not allowing you folks to solve problems…to develop active coping strategies, we’re robbing them of those opportunities. And while we’re doing that, in a benevolent way and for a good cause, we may be inadvertently handicapping them at the same time,” said Dr. Bea.
Greater awareness for mental health
Another factor at play, Dr. Bea argues, is Generation Z’s higher likelihood to report poor mental health resulting from their higher awareness of mental health vs older generations.
“We know more about mental health now, that it’s a biological matter,” he says. “This knowledge takes away the morality of it. Instead of asking, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ or a parent wondering, ‘Did I parent wrong?’ we now know a lot of this is biological, which is making it safer for people to seek help. We also have better information on where to get help and that help is effective.”