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Generation Z Most Likely to Have Poor Mental Health

New study shows protecting the young from harm also does harm

Generation Z aged man stressed on park bench

Members of Generation Z (that’s the cohort of people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s) are the most likely of all generations to report poor mental health, according to a new report.

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Psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, believes what stresses today’s young people out could be a product of what their parents experienced while they were very young.

A side effect of 24/7 news

“This is a group whose parents were experiencing 9/11 when they were young ― 6 years of age or younger. Our world really changed and we became more sensitive to threat,” Dr. Bea says. “During this time, the news media exploded as more and more people wanted news and we started engaging in more safety behaviors.”

Because of the inescapable presence of threats in today’s society ― from what we see on TV to the safety drills our children practice in school ― we’ve developed a generation that has been strongly protected, he explains.

Hearing about every event in the news can actually make us over-estimate our risk, Dr. Bea notes.

We need to be able to cope with adversity

And sometimes it’s even the little stuff (say, conflicts with friends or at school). When parents fight too many battles for their kids, Dr. Bea points out that it doesn’t allow children to develop the coping skills they need to deal with adversity.

Just like our bodies develop a biological immunity through exposure to threats, our psychological system can also develop immunity through exposure.

If we’re not allowing young folks to solve problems … to develop active coping strategies, we’re robbing them of those opportunities. And while we’re doing that, in a benevolent way and for a good cause, we may be inadvertently handicapping them at the same time.

An increased attention to mental health may also be at play

On the other hand, Dr. Bea says the report also shows that while Generation Z might be more likely to report poor mental health, they’re also more likely than older generations to be aware of their mental health and seek out help when necessary.

“We know more about mental health now, that it’s a biological matter,” he says. “This knowledge takes away the morality of it. Instead of asking, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ or a parent wondering, ‘Did I parent wrong?’ we now know a lot of this is biological, which is making it safer for people to seek help. We also have better information on where to get help and that help is effective.”

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