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Mental health challenges are increasing across generations, but Gen Z is particularly vulnerable. While this generation has access to digital tools and services that allow them to connect with others and seek help, they still encounter barriers that prevent a full recovery.

Gen Z and Their Relationship with Mental Health

The stress factors facing this new generation are multitudinous and often chronic. Whether directly or not, Gen Z’ers have had to deal with the impacts of school shootings, political polarization, high student debt, the threat of climate crisis, and a rise in unemployment.

Additionally, Gen Z is the first generation of digital natives to grow up using social media. Constant connection online can paradoxically create feelings of isolation and loneliness in young people. Other detrimental effects range from exposure to explicitly harmful content and cyberbullying to feelings of insecurity for not measuring up to the images they see of their peers or celebrities. Navigating the dangers of their real and online worlds can take a severe toll on many Gen Z’ers’ mental health, leading to a higher likelihood of self-harm, poor body image, poor sleep, weight issues, and depression.

Statistics Paint a Worrisome Picture for Gen Z’s Mental Health

Considering the above, it is worrisome but little wonder that only 45% of Gen Z’ers report that their mental health is “very good” or “excellent.” Furthermore, over 70% of Gen Z teens state that their peers grapple with depression and anxiety.

Rates of depression and anxiety rose by more than 25% globally in 2020, but this generation has faced unique challenges that have compounded the effect of the pandemic on their mental health. For example, school closures forced students to take their education online, which often negatively impacted their learning and increased feelings of loneliness. Destabilized economies have affected many young adults’ pursuits towards careers or meaningful employment. Meanwhile, other Gen Z youth have had to deal with the death of guardians or other loved ones due to COVID-19.

The pandemic also placed significant strain on LGBTQIA+ youth, who are already at risk for higher levels of suicidal ideation. More stressful home situations and the inability to express gender identity were among the negative impacts reported by respondents.

Gen Z Becoming Less Likely to Seek Help

In 2019, the American Psychiatric Association released a report showing that a greater percentage of Gen Z’ers (37%) had received therapy or treatment than prior generations (Millennials being a close second at 35% before dropping to only 26% of Gen X’ers).

However, this trend appears to have changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite increased mental health needs, consumer surveys and interviews published by McKinsey at the start of 2022 indicate that Gen Z respondents are now less likely to reach out for help. Compared to Millennials, they are 1.6 to 1.8 times more likely to report not seeking treatment for behavioral health issues.

When Gen Z does seek help, they often do so through emergency care, social media, and digital tools, such as Crisis Text Line. Some of their reasons for resisting traditional means of outpatient care can be categorized into the following:

  • Long wait times. Waiting weeks to see a psychiatrist feels unmanageable when experiencing a mental health crisis. The emergency room seems like the only alternative for many Gen Z youth.
  • Perceived lack of affordable care. One out of four Gen Z’ers respondents says they cannot afford behavioral or mental health services, even when partially covered by insurance.
  • Dissatisfaction with treatment. Ultimately, many Gen Z’ers don’t find the behavioral healthcare system helpful. Only 3.7 out of 5.0 Gen Z respondents feel helped by outpatient therapy compared to 4.1 for Gen X.

How Clinicians and Practices Can Better Serve Gen Z

Despite these challenges, one improvement for Gen Z is that the stigma surrounding mental health issues has lessened over the years. Public campaigns and the internet have paved the path for more open discussions about psychological problems, making it easier for Gen Z to recognize and talk about their struggles online or with their peers.

This openness is a bright entry point for behavioral health specialists who want to reach Gen Z. Making your patient experience convenient and friendly can go a long way in establishing trust with this generation. Here are three ways you can encourage Gen Z to engage with mental health resources:

  1.  Use telehealth appointments. Gen Z is used to the convenience of operating online and often juggles school, jobs, extracurriculars, and family and social obligations. Some are still dependent on parents or guardians for transportation. Offering the option for virtual appointments makes behavioral health treatment more obtainable.
  2. Make it easy to contact you. Phone calls can be a source of anxiety for many Gen Z’ers. As digital natives, patient portals can be the preferred mode of communication. It also gives patients an easy way to reach you between appointments or during a crisis.
  3. Make therapy friendly. Authenticity is essential for Gen Z. Look for ways to make closer connections with your younger patients, like documentation tools that allow you to be fully present in therapy sessions.

Open the Door for Gen Z-Style Treatment With the Right EHR

As Gen Z moves into adulthood, their mental health issues will likely continue. For behavioral health clinicians and practices to better help this generation, they must understand their perspectives on mental health and their preferred modes of communication.

Valant’s EHR makes it easy for Gen Z patients to onboard, request appointments, and comfortably communicate with you. Mobile Notes lets you complete your documentation during a session without intruding on your relationship with patients. 

Contact us today to see how Valant can empower your practice to better serve Gen Z’s needs.