Mental Health Perceptions Across Generations

Mental Health Perceptions Across Generations

Abby Hall, Staff Writer

For those who are currently in college, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard about the Generation Z and Millennial debates and discussions that are circling the internet right now. This topic is spiraling into important conversations that need to be had and is highlighting how different generations perceptions are about life, specifically mental health.

In a report released by the American Psychiatric Association entitled “Stress in America: Generation Z” in October 2019, Gen Z were more likely to have received treatment or gone to therapy (37%) compared to Millennials (35%), Gen X’ers (26%), Baby Boomers (22%), and the Silent Generation (15%). Moreover, Gen Z were more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor (27%), compared to Millennials (15%) and Gen X (13%).

Although the years vary slightly depending on the source, this article will focus on the information and calculations from Pew Research Center. 

Generation Z, or “Gen Z” is categorized as those who were born between the years 1997 to 2012. Millennials were born from 1981 to 1996, Generation X from 1965 to 1980, and Boomers from 1928 to 1945. 

A majority of the people who are reading this fall into the category of Gen Z, however in terms of personality, characteristics and experiences, many of us have found ourselves in the middle of Gen Z and Millennials. 

Those who were born around the cusp years typically share traits and life experiences of both the generations while also adapting their own that are different from either generation. 

It is for this reason that readers should take the generation labels with a grain of salt and remember that these terms are more for scientific and research purposes rather than an attempt to categorize 15 years’ worth of people under one term. 

It’s no secret that the stigma around mental health in the past ten years has decreased significantly compared to decades prior.

While this is an incredible accomplishment, there are still many obstacles to face and there is often a difference of perception when it comes to different generation’s opinions about mental health.

The Boomer generation lived through intense war, trauma, and economic turmoil and therefore is going to have a completely different mental wiring surrounding today’s society. They still lived during a time where war veterans were sent to asylums for PTSD, deemed unstable and cast out of regular society. 

Those who suffered from post-partum depression, an illness that is now commonly recognized and treatable, were also viewed as weak and locked away.

There was no mental health education or awareness, society treated those with mental illness as outcasts, and they didn’t have access to the internet or any readily available resources. 

While it is hard to understand why most of our grandparents aren’t as accepting of mental health, it’s important to remember the environment they were raised in and how different our own perception would have been had we been born fifty or sixty years ago.

Generation X, also known as the lost generation, were so overlooked that they didn’t have a name until 1991. When discussing mental health perceptions, this group often gets overlooked in-between Boomers and Millennials. 

Generation X were raised by Boomers and were known for being “rushed through childhood.” They were expected to take care of themselves while their parents focused on work and delt with the political and economic turmoil.

Taught to be self-reliant, this generation was raised on independence and tough love, which can often clash with mental health. 

They still were not educated on mental health, lacked advanced technology during childhood and adolescence, and raised by one of the toughest generations in terms of mental strength. 

Generation X gave birth to the Millennials and they began igniting a lot of positive change in the mental health community. The tough love style of learning taught by Boomers and Generation X didn’t resonate well with the Millennial generation and they began taking steps away.

Millennials were the first to really see technology rise and social media develop while still being young. Similar to Gen Z, they felt the impact of insecurity, comparison, and holding everything at the click of a button with this development. 

Known now as the anxious generation, they are far more likely to talk about mental health and seek help then their parents or grandparents.

However, coming in as the most depressed generation is Generation Z, and it is important to consider that while millennials were more educated about mental health, seeking therapy was still considered taboo for a lot of people. Therefore, they couldn’t be used in the data if they were not seeking treatment, which is a huge problem for all mental health information and statistics. 

The true impact of depression or anxiety on previous generations is all dependent on how many people actually sought out help. 

Obviously, every generation differs from the ones before, but Gen Z is the first generation to be completely raised with smartphones and advanced technology. This is a vastly different world than the one previous generations experienced and it has come with a lot of horrible side effects. 

Most importantly, they are interconnected globally with a diverse range of people that can easily communicate through technology and social media instantly. Gen Z has lived through 9/11, school shootings, the impact of climate change, political unrest, a mental health revolution, and now is dealing with schooling through a global pandemic. 

It hasn’t been easy on any generation, but the level of technology that society has right now is the biggest factor that separates them from any other time period. They constantly have immediate access to tragic world news, something previous generations did not have.

According to APA in August of 2018, a poll reported that almost half of Gen Z respondents reported being connected online for 10 or more hours a day. There is no doubt that the pandemic has not made this number any lower or this problem any easier to deal with.

There are benefits to technology and social media, but it has also shown to increase ADD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, insecurity, comparison, isolation, and even suicide rates according to certain studies.

According to Pew Research Center, anxiety and depression are now reported as the top concern of students’ peers, surpassing bullying, drug addiction, alcohol, and poverty. 

It is important to note that while technology has its downfalls, social media has been able to connect Gen Z with other people’s stories, allows access to psychological and scientific information, provides a space for Gen Z to communicate and express their thoughts, and is a current medium that is helping to spread awareness about mental health. 

While we continue to advocate for mental health education, awareness, and understanding, remember that the generations that are still alive today have lived in a different world than we have experienced. 

It takes decades for new ideas and movements to solidify, and there will always be those who oppose on any opinion in the world.

Continue to push for positive change and keep educating yourself and others.