Generational Differences in Mental Health


Psychologists have noted that considering the impact the internet, smart phones and social media have had on these children and adolescents, many refer to them as the iGeneration. (Julia Corbett)

By Kelly Christ

It is no secret that mental health has evolved extensively over the past several decades. With the rise of new technologies like the internet and social media, awareness of mental disorders has increased. The youngest generations in our country are part of a new landscape of mental health, but what has affected the mental health of the youngest generations the most, as compared to previous generations? And what do all these changes predict for coming generations?

The most obvious factor that has altered the mental health of both millennials (those born from roughly the early 1980s to late 1990s) and Generation Z (early 2000s onward) is the rise of the internet. Many individuals in these generations, especially Generation Z, have been affected heavily by the presence of this technology since very early childhood. Psychologists have noted that considering the impact the internet, smart phones and social media have had on these children and adolescents, many refer to them as the iGeneration. They are comfortable with technology in ways no prior generation has been. They do not remember life before it because they rely on it for so many aspects of their lives.

Unfortunately, the massive popularity of and reliance on social media for this generation have contributed to an increased rate of mental illness, primarily anxiety and depressive disorders. Social media have contributed to an increased feeling of loneliness among the adolescents of Generation Z. Studies have shown that around 45 percent of young people reported feelings of judgment because of social media, and 38 percent said it made them feel worse about themselves. Social media are not the only culprits for the high stress and anxiety rates of our youngest generation. Due to the tragic prevalence of gun violence, particularly with recent school shootings such as that at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which had 17 causalities, the concern for safety at school has been a source of stress for about 75 percent of young adults surveyed.

It also has added stress to older generations, as their parents reported similar results. An important thing to remember when studying the influence of mass shootings on this generation is that almost all were born after the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. While the mass shooting at Columbine was not the first, it was the deadliest school shooting at the time. It shocked parents and students alike, and it motivated schools and safety officials to take violent threats more seriously, as well as to implement stronger security measures.

Since Columbine, there has been a devastating number of similar tragedies at a higher rate than ever before. These have included the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which targeted children between just six and seven years old as well as several adult staff members. The terrifying realization that horrific events such as these can occur has undoubtedly contributed to higher anxiety levels among all generations, but especially the younger generations that are still in school themselves.

In a similar vein, the devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001 had an impact on the mental health of everyone in the United States. However, Generation Z is uniquely affected as many of them either were not born yet or were too young to remember that day. They do not know a time when there was not a looming threat of terrorism, as “they never had the luxury of a threat-free perspective so they’ve been forced to view life through a more guarded lens from the start,” says Forbes. While this may seem concerning, it has also led to a more mature and conscientious generation of young adults.

The shock of these tragedies has not scared them so much that they feel hopeless in the face of such realities. They often are more motivated to change things and to make a difference, allowing the succeeding generations a better state of the world. One of the events that has directly shown this was the March for Our Lives in 2018. One month after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, the survivors of the shooting continued their activism efforts that began almost immediately after the shooting by holding a march to end gun violence and promote gun control legislation. The strength and determination of the young survivors was palpable in their emotional speeches and interviews ever since Feb. 14, 2018. They were not afraid to take on the political leaders, despite not being old enough to vote for themselves. They argued for better gun control measures with leaders from the National Rifle Association. Even amidst such devastation, the spark of hope in their hearts motivated them and so many other young students to take a stand and to advocate for their safety.

The statistics regarding the mental health of Generation Z may seem discouraging at first glance. However, they are more open with discussing mental health and seeking help for mental illness than any generation prior. Thankfully, many young adults are open to sharing their experiences with mental illness, and the subject is less taboo than it has been in the past. In response to the higher rates of mental illness, many schools have taken initiative to have more mental health resources available to their students. These may even include counseling services and mental health education requirements in their curricula. All in all, these trends in mental health seem optimistic for future generations.

As the world changes and evolves, so too must mental health treatment. Each generation faces different challenges than the last, and these often shape the mental well-being of these individuals. Hopefully, we can gradually improve mental health awareness and treatment as various generations learn how best to tackle the obstacles in their emotional and mental health.