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Generation Z – Report Highlights Worsening Mental Health

A recently published report by McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) found that Generation Z is more accepting of mental health illness but reports poor and worsening mental health compared to other generations.

Who is Gen Z?

Generation Z, also known as ‘Gen Z’ or ‘Gen Z-ers,’ was born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. The age range does move by one or two years, depending on which definition you use. They account for approximately 26% of the world’s population and, by 2025, will make up 27% of the workforce.

The global population of Gen Z is around 2 billion and represents our future parents, teachers, and work colleagues.

Younger generations have increased awareness of mental health and openness in discussing and addressing issues they may have. A recent report in the US by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) echoes this and confirms that the population under 25 spent 42% on mental health and substance abuse in 2020. By far the most extensive age range to do so.

Gen Z’s perception of mental health

MHI surveyed 6,000 Gen Z individuals in ten European countries and respondents in the US to understand the impact of their mental health within the context of exceptional global uncertainty over the last few years. This research examines five key themes to understand Gen Z’s attitude toward mental health.

1. Worsening mental health than other generations

Gen Z reports that their mental health has worsened in the last three years, with approximately one in five European respondents saying it is poor or very poor. This finding was five times more than the baby boomer generation (1946 to 1964). European females reported poor mental health in comparison to males. Compared to the US cohort, one in four respondents reported emotional distress.

2. Unprecedented global and regional crisis

Gen Z cited a combination of global climate changes, a war in Ukraine, and COVID-19 as causing them distress.

Global climate changes triggered above-average stress levels for respondents from Turkey, Spain, and Italy. Turkey, Netherlands, and Poland respondents experienced higher stress levels due to the Ukraine war. Italy, Spain, and UK respondents experienced higher stress levels than their European counterparts due to COVID-19, with Italians experiencing the highest stress level.

3. Understanding mental health conditions

In comparison to other generations, approximately 30% of Gen Zs perceived that a person’s mental illness results from a poor upbringing and character flaws. This somewhat negative perception did not significantly affect their perception of the social stigma attached to mental health illnesses.

In most European countries, approximately 70% of Gen Z respondents confirmed that they were willing to continue a relationship with a friend who had a mental illness, live with, work with or live next to a neighbor who was recovering from a mental illness.

In contrast, Gen Z acknowledges that they experience self-stigma. It was higher than average with UK respondents. Conversely, despite experiencing self-stigma attached to their mental health, this did not prevent them from accepting or discussing mental health with their friends.

4. Sources of help

The most significant source of support for mental health conditions came from friends, with an average score of 52%. Other support, such as doctors or therapists, had an average score of 44%, followed by a family member with an average score of 37%. The costs involved in seeking private, professional advice were prohibitive for those requiring or seeking help, although the market for such services continues to rise overall.

This generation is most likely to go to social media for advice in the first instance, followed by therapists and downloading apps to help support them. Most confirmed that these resources were valuable, but online training and resources such as peer groups, workshops, and counseling were more effective.

Reassuringly, a high percentage (between 70% and 89%) advised that their schools provided resources. There is still work to be done, as the study noted that an average of 30% did not know if their schools’ provided resources for mental health.

5. Employers

While Gen Z respondents said they are less likely to speak to a work colleague or a work supervisor, they also understand the need for employers to be able to offer support for mental health illnesses. An average of 67% confirmed that mental health support plays a significant role when considering future employment.

Action needed now

In summary, for this generation to be fully supported, schools and employers need to take action and urgently put plans in place to meet the needs of this group in terms of resources and infrastructure. This will ensure that meaningful help and support for mental health conditions can be provided to support a generation with a very low baseline as a starting point.

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