Gen Z and mental health
Reviewed by Susan Radzilowski, MSW, LMSW, ACSW
Written bytherapist.com team
Last updated: 08/04/2023
Who is Gen Z?
Generation Z (also called “Gen Z” or “Zoomers”) is a generation of people born after 1996 or so, between the Millennials and Generation Alpha. Since they’re a younger generation, their dates aren’t yet agreed on, but their final birth years usually fall between 2009 and 2011.
Older Gen Zers and younger Millennials may get grouped into the Zillennial “cusp generation” or “microgeneration.” This group’s birthdate range is still being decided, but its widest range is 1992 to 2000.
Are generations real?
Generations are socially constructed categories, meaning their details (birthdate range, names, and formative events) are decided over time by experts and the public. Generations can be helpful ways of understanding others, but they have limits. Like all socially constructed categories, they’re most useful in the context of other shared social experiences, such as:
- Family of origin
- Age and stage of life
- Race and ethnicity
- Gender and sexuality
- Ability and disability
- Income and socioeconomic class
- Occupation and workplace
- Experience of pregnancy and/or parenthood
- Relationship status
- Religion or faith community
- Immigration experience and/or status
- Physical and mental health history
Gen Z demographics
- Race and ethnicity: Nearly half (48%) of US Gen Zers are non-White, and 25% are Hispanic.1
- Gender and sexuality: A Gallup poll from 2021 shows that nearly 16% identify as LGBTQIA+.2 A 2020 survey shows that 48% believe same-sex marriage is good for society, while 36% feel it doesn’t really make a difference. More than a third (35%) personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.3
- Education: In 2018, 57% of Zoomers ages 18 to 21 were enrolled in college, and 44% of kids ages 7 to 17 lived with a parent who had a college degree.4
- Population percentage: US census data from 2019 shows Gen Z making up about 20% of the population.5
How does Gen Z talk about mental health?
In general, Gen Zers are more open to talking about and seeking help for their mental health. In a 2019 survey, 37% said that they’d received treatment from a mental health professional.6 Zoomers also tend to be more familiar with mental health concepts than other generations. They commonly use terms like “panic attack” online and in person.
Gen Z and depression
In a 2018 survey, only 45% of Gen Z respondents said they had very good or excellent mental health—a lower percentage than Millennials (56%), Gen X (51%), Boomers (70%), and the Silent Generation (74%).7 And a long-term study found that young adults reported greater rates of depression, psychological distress, and suicidal ideation.8
These statistics don’t just show us that depression is increasing among young people—they also show us that mental health awareness and accessibility are improving. As stigma decreases and more people can access mental health care, diagnosis rates will naturally increase.
Gen Z and stress
Stress is a huge factor in Gen Z’s mental health struggles. About 9 in 10 Gen Z adults ages 18 to 23 have experienced at least one stress-related symptom, such as feelings of depression or a lack of energy.9 Zoomers grew up with school shootings and climate change in the news frequently; sexual harassment and assault reports, separation and deportation of immigrant families, and other difficult realities add to their stress levels. Topping the list are mass shootings, which 75% named as a significant stressor.10
The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit this generation particularly hard. In 2021, 46% of Gen Z adults reported that their mental health had worsened during the pandemic—the largest percentage of any generation.11
Gen Z and anxiety
There isn’t much research available yet on Gen Z’s anxiety rates. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in every three teenagers (ages 13 to 18) has an anxiety disorder, but this is based on 2001 to 2004 data from Millennials, not Gen Z.12 The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that from 2007 to 2012, anxiety disorders in children and teens (including both Zoomers and Millennials) increased 20%.13 It’s safe to say that anxiety may be on the rise for Gen Z.
Gen Z and social media
Almost all teenagers use social media. A 2018 survey showed that 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds had a smartphone, and 89% said they were online either several times a day or “almost constantly.”14 The survey happened before TikTok hit peak popularity, but 97% of respondents were on at least one of seven major platforms: Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and Reddit.
During the lockdown years of the pandemic, the internet and social media were lifelines for many young people. Events offering relationships and connection—birthday parties, happy hours, game nights, holidays—moved online out of necessity. Online therapy also skyrocketed.
On the other hand, social media and the internet can do harm to our mental health. Online bullying, comparison, perfectionism, gossip, outrage media, and doomscrolling can contribute to conditions including:15
Teenagers and mental health
It’s helpful to think about stages of life when we discuss generations. Today’s teenagers are Zoomers, but Gen Z will continue to grow into adulthood, middle age, and old age while new generations face the growing pains of adolescence.
Some of our experiences relate mostly to our specific stage of life (like struggling with mood swings during puberty), while others are shared generational experiences that happen during a specific life stage (such as living through the Great Recession during puberty). Many of Gen Z’s mental health challenges are the same ones faced by Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation during their own adolescence.
Mental health risks for adolescents
- Suicide: Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for US teenagers.16 LGBTQIA+ young people in particular are twice as likely to feel suicidal and more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight, cisgender peers.17
- Other addictions and substance abuse: Many teenagers experiment with substances—alcohol, prescription medications, marijuana, inhalants, illegal drugs—that can result in addiction.
- Smoking addiction: Almost 90% of adults who smoke started before age 18, and about 75% of high school smokers end up becoming adult smokers.18 Vaping is just as addictive as traditional smoking because most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, even those marketed as being nicotine-free.19
- Lack of sleep: According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night, but nearly 70% of US high school students get seven or less.20 This can increase their risk for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
Common mental health disorders in adolescence
The World Health Organization estimates that 14% of 10- to 19-year-olds around the globe have mental health conditions, but most go undiagnosed and untreated.21 Common mental health disorders among teenagers include:
- ADHD: A 2016 survey estimated that 3.3 million US kids ages 12 to 17 had received an ADHD diagnosis.22
- Anxiety: Approximately one in three US teenagers experience an anxiety disorder.
- Depression: In 2017, about 13% of US kids ages 12 to 17 reported having symptoms of major depression.23
- Eating disorders: Forty-six percent of US adolescents say they’ve tried to lose weight.24 Research shows that teenage dieting often leads to “unhealthy weight control behaviors” in adulthood.
- Insomnia: Insomnia is believed to affect nearly one in four US teenagers.25
Get help now
If you’re in crisis, help is available now. For free, confidential 24/7 support, call the 988 Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255),or text HOME to 741741.
About the author
The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.
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