What Happened to Gen Z Mental Health?

Jun 7, 2023 | Uncategorized

This article discusses suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

In 2017, author and psychology professor Jean Twenge warned of an unfolding mental health crisis among young Americans and offered a cause: smartphones and the social media that come with them. In her influential book iGen, Twenge described members of the Gen Z cohort (whom she called “iGen” at that point) as “born in 1995 and later, they grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet.” 

Dr. Twenge identified a number of defining trends for “iGen’ers, some of which are causing severe mental health issues for many members of this cohort. “They are at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011,” Twenge wrote in iGen.

In her new book, Generations, Dr. Twenge provided a groundbreaking, revelatory portrait of the six generations that currently live in the United States. She pointed out that Gen Z (iGen) members born between 1995-2012

  • Are twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their lives than millennials at the same age
  • Are twice as likely to be clinically depressed as teens and young adults than millennials were
  • Are twice as likely to take their own lives as teens compared to millennials

“Whatever you call them, they are different,” she wrote in the new book. “Smartphones and widespread social media have meant that Gen Z conducts more of their social interaction online and less in the ‘meatworld’ of in-person interaction.” 

Gen Z is the “most racially and ethnically diverse generation” of Americans to date and also bringing “an unprecedented amount of attention to diversity in gender identity and sexual orientation,” Twenge wrote in Generations

When it comes to their mental health, Gen Z is speaking up and “they are not shy about. The less positive news is that they are talking about it more because they are suffering more.”

“Every indicator of mental health and psychological well-being has become more negative among teens and young adults since 2012,” Twenge wrote in Generations. “The trends are stunning in their consistency, breadth, and size. Most involve what psychologists call internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Even when they do not rise to the level of disorders, these emotions are not pleasant—they involve feeling unhappy, dissatisfied with life, and down on yourself.”

“Gen Z teens are markedly more lonely than previous generations at the same age,” Twenge wrote. As a consequence, “ER admissions for suicide attempts among teens (both boys and girls) doubled between 2008 and 2015.” It’s a horrific statistic. “Let that sink in,” Twenge wrote. “Twice as many teens were taking their own lives in 2019 than just 12 years before, and three times as many kids in 4th to 9th grade died at their own hands.”

Twenge largely blames “digital communication” for the crisis. “Instead of going to the movies, or meeting up at parties, Gen Z was using Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. By early 2020, nearly half of 8th graders spend three hours or more using social media.”

Regular exposure to mental stressors also put Gen Z members at an elevated risk for addiction. A large number of substance use disorders (SUDs) start during the teenage years. 

In 2021, nearly a quarter of high school students drank alcohol during the past 30 days with female students more likely than male students to currently misuse alcohol, according to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February. Sixteen percent of high school students used marijuana during the past 30 days that year and again girls were more likely than boys to currently use marijuana.

Many teenagers require treatment or else risk escalating their substance misuse leading to full-blown addiction and other serious health problems. The negative impact of substance misuse on scholastic achievements will possibly also further accelerate the use of drugs and alcohol.  

There is a new treatment option for teenagers at risk in the Denver area. Avanti Behavioral Health recently launched an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for clients between the ages of 13 and 18 in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, holistic, family-centered, and trauma-informed care for teens. 

We believe that recovery from a substance use disorder is a process that should involve the entire immediate family. We have developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030. 

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