Skip to content

Gen Z Mental Health | Mental Health In College Students

Gen Z Mental Health Crisis


Untreated poor gen z mental health can cause distress among students and, hence, negatively influence their quality of life and academic performance, including, but not limited to, lower academic integrity, alcohol and substance abuse as well as a reduced empathetic behavior, relationship instability, lack of self-confidence, and suicidal thoughts.

Gen Z is more likely to report mental health concerns. More than nine in 10 Gen Z adults (91 percent) said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress, such as feeling depressed or sad (58 percent) or lacking interest, motivation, or energy (55 percent). Only half of all Gen Zs feel like they do enough to manage their stress.

Headline issues, from covid19, immigration to sexual assault, are causing significant stress among members of Generation Z—those between ages 15 and 21. Gen Z members are also more stressed than adults overall about other issues in the news, such as the separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families (57 percent of Gen Z versus 45 percent of all adults reported the issue is a significant source of stress) and sexual harassment and assault reports (53 percent versus 39 percent). [1]

Gen Z Mental Health
Gen Z faces chronic stress from many factors including school shootings, student debt, joblessness, and even politics.

Factors that Influence Students or Gen Z Mental Health

It is well-known that the prevalence of stress, anxiety, and depression is high among university undergraduate students in developed and developing countries. Students entering university are from different socioeconomic backgrounds, which can bring a variety of mental health risk factors.

Six different themes [2] of risk factors were identified:

  • Psychological
  • Academic
  • Biological
  • Lifestyle
  • Social
  • Financial

Risk factors associated with stress, depression, and anxiety among university students should be identified early in university to provide them with additional mental health support and prevent exacerbation of risk factors.

The Effects of Social Media

Loneliness and subsequently excessive social media usage are associated with SAD (Stress, Anxiety,  Depression).

Fresher students try to establish their social network and might feel isolated, which can push them to excessive usage of social media to fill their social gap.

While the internet and social media can be great tools for maintaining a social relationship with classmates, pre-university friends, and family members, they can have negative mental health effects. Excessive usage of social media and the internet during freshman year can be a predictor of developing SAD during the following years. Students who have a higher dependence on social media report a higher feeling of loneliness.

Students with internet addiction and excessive usage of social media are usually in the first year of their degrees, which can reflect a lack of adjustment to university life and forming a social network. Also, students who use social media more often have a lower level of self-esteem and prefer to recreate their sense of self.

 While the internet and online platforms can have beneficial effects for students, such as rapid access to a variety of online learning resources and keeping in contact with friends and families, excessive usage of social media and the internet can have negative consequences on students’ academic performance. A poor Gen Z mental health state at the beginning of university life is a predictor of internet addiction later during the degree. 

Gen Z Mental Health
Family support has a major role in gen z mental health issues recovery.

No Limitations (Parenting)

Uninvolved parenting or no limitations parenting, sometimes referred to as neglectful parenting, is a style characterized by a lack of responsiveness to a child’s needs. Uninvolved parents make few to no demands of their children and they are often indifferent, dismissive, or even completely neglectful.

It is important to note that uninvolved parenting is often not intentional. It may arise for a number of different reasons, including things like parental experience and stress.

Students with uninvolved parents may:

  • Be anxious or stressed due to the lack of family support
  • Be motionally withdrawn
  • Fear becoming dependent on other people
  • Have an increased risk of substance abuse
  • Have to learn to provide for themselves
  • Exhibit more delinquency during adolescence

Employment Stress

We know that high levels of stress hurt our mental health.

 About half of all full-time college students have jobs outside of school. This number jumps to 80% when it comes to part-time students. One study showed that 70% of college students are stressed about finances. [3] With work, school, activities, and friends all demanding attention, many students struggle with balancing and prioritizing the different areas of their lives.

Education Stress

In the study, Stress in America 2020, nearly 90% of this age group reported education as a significant source of stress. College students in the U.S. faced the brunt of many uncertainties following the initial virus outbreaks in February and March as colleges rushed to close campuses, evict students from residence halls, and transition to online learning. [4]

Continued uncertainty regarding the 2020-2021 school year and a feeling that planning for the future is impossible because of the pandemic also contribute greatly to stress in this group.

Covid 19 Impact

Some stress is healthy and even motivating when it arises under the proper circumstances, but this year Americans are experiencing a profound rise in stress levels resulting from the uncertainty and physical dangers of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 223,000 lives in the U.S. alone.

The problem of chronic and unhealthy levels of stress is at its worst among college-age students, according to some research. While most adults report experiencing elevated stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adults ages 18 to 23 are experiencing the highest stress levels, according to August survey findings released in October by the American Psychological Association.  [5]

Gen Z Mental Health in College Students

Attending college can be a stressful time for many students. In addition to coping with academic pressure, some students have to deal with the stressful tasks of separation and individuation from their family of origin while some may have to attend to numerous work and family responsibilities. In this context, many college students experience the first onset of Gen Z mental health and substance use problems or an exacerbation of their symptoms.

Dual Diagnosis Statistic
Poor Gen Z mental health makes young adults engage in substance abuse.

Non-traditional college students are often employed full-time, older, and may have dependents other than their spouses.

In addition to stress-related to academic load, these students may have to face the task of taking on more adult-like responsibilities without having yet mastered the skills and cognitive maturity of adulthood. For example, many traditional college students may face potentially stressful experiences for the first time including working, being in a significant relationship that may lead to marriage, or having housemates with cultures and belief systems different from their own.

Thus, this group of students may have to cope with meeting work and family demands in addition to academic requirements. In these contexts, many college students may experience the persistence, exacerbation, or first onset of Gen Z mental health and substance use problems while possibly receiving no or inadequate treatment. With the increasing recognition of child mental health issues and the use of more psychotropic medications, the number of young adults with mental health problems entering college has significantly increased. [6]

What Age do Mental Health Problems Occur?

The first onset of mental disorders usually occurs in childhood or adolescence, although treatment typically does not occur until a number of years later. Although interventions with early incipient disorders might help reduce severity‐persistence of primary disorders and prevent secondary disorders, additional research is needed on appropriate treatments for early incipient cases and on long‐term evaluation of the effects of early intervention on secondary prevention.

Gen Z Mental Health & Suicide

Many students with suicidal ideation do not seek treatment, it is critical to implement screening strategies to identify them and engage them in treatment. Among the major risk factors for suicide in this age group are depression, hopelessness, and substance use. Gen Z is experiencing more mental health issues than other generations right now. And their distress levels are quite concerning.

It could be a pivotal time to provide young people with the support they need to move forward in a post-pandemic world.

On the surface, it seems like young people would have less reason to stress than other generations. After all, they may not yet have families to support and they’ve grown up with smartphones and similar devices, so working and learning from home might seem easier for them.

But many individuals in Gen Z spent the pandemic living alone. Loneliness may play a big role in their distress.

The suicide rate for individuals of all ages in the United States increased 30% from 2000 to 2016 and peaked for youth in 2017, according to a new study by the JAMA Network of medical journals. Contributing to the high youth depression and suicide rates in America are social media use and a greater willingness of families and officials to acknowledge suicide as a cause of death, the JAMA study authors said. [7]

Data shows that suicide rates vary across genders and races or ethnicities.

Awareness – Why Gen Z is More Open About Their Mental Health

The reason for this trend of increasing use of mental health services [8] and reporting Gen Z mental health being poor is likely threefold:

  • Life has introduced a different variety of stressors, leading to increased psychological concerns and more need for services for Gen Z mental health
  • Awareness of Gen Z mental health issues has grown, so that what once might have been ignored is recognized as a problem and treated as such
  • Stigma around using Gen Z mental health services has lessened, making it more likely that Gen Z will identify their own issues and seek help when they feel they have a mental health problem that can be treated

Gen Z Mental Health Tips for College Students

As we look forward to the restrictions continuing to lift, it’s important to pay attention to ensure we’re doing what we can to support one another—especially Gen Z.

In summary, Gen Z mental health problems are common among college students. Academic pressure together with stressors typical of starting and attending college may precipitate the first onset of mental health and substance use problems or an exacerbation of symptoms.

Support could include having open and honest conversations about Gen Z mental health, recommending someone talk to their doctor about their well-being, offering to help someone find free or low-cost resources, or providing practical tasks that reduce someone’s stress.

Gen Z Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an economic crisis that is changing the world of work for young people. If you’re struggling with symptoms of SAD, contact us today for help.

While internet addiction and excessive usage of social media can have a negative impact on students’ Gen Z mental health, technology, such as mobile phone applications can be used on universities campuses to promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce risk factors among students. For example, many students refuse to receive face-to-face mental health counseling support during their anxiety and depression due to the stigma associated with disclosure of Gen Z mental health issues. Providing students with anonymized counseling services through mobile phone applications can be one way of delivering help to students at universities.

Finally, important aspects of treatment to consider when treating college students with mental health problems are outlined, such as the importance of including parents in the treatment, communicating with other providers, and employing technology to increase adherence. It is concluded that, by becoming familiar with the unique problems characteristic of the developmental stage and environment college students are in, practitioners will be able to better serve them.

If you or a loved one is suffering from Gen Z mental health or SAD (Stress, Anxiety, Depression), contact us today at We Level Up and let us help you. We have a 24/7 helpline and treatment options that could work best for you.

Sources:

[1] Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns – The latest APA Stress in America™ Survey focuses on the concerns of Americans ages 15 to 21 – https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z
[2] Risk factors associated with stress, anxiety, and depression among university undergraduate students – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[3] Balancing Work And School – https://www.mhanational.org/balancing-work-and-school
[4] Stress in College Students: What to Know – https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/stress-in-college-students-what-to-know
[5] STRESS IN AMERICA™ 2020 – American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/sia-mental-health-crisis.pdf
[6] College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[7] Generation Z and Mental Health – https://www.aecf.org/blog/generation-z-and-mental-health
[8] Why Gen Z Is More Open to Talking About Their Mental Health – https://www.verywellmind.com/why-gen-z-is-more-open-to-talking-about-their-mental-health-5104730