Caring for the Emotional Struggles of Generation Z

As described in a previous article, researchers have mostly agreed on what age group that comes after the Millennials. Members of Generation Z, as this group is known, were born after 1996 and have never lived without the Internet and smartphones. In this article, I'll look at a study describing mental health and stress among members of Generation Z.

For those of us who have children or grandchildren who are in this age group, the results can help us better understand the troubles that these young family members may encounter. In turn, such awareness can help parents and grandparents to be attentive to signs of such troubles, prepared should such issues arise with their young family members, and better able to talk to them intelligently about their concerns.

Mental Health

In August, 2018, the American Psychological Association conducted their "Stress in America" survey of respondents between age 15 and older adulthood. The Generation Z sample consisted of those aged 15 to 21. When asked to rate their mental health, 27% of Generation Z'ers described it as fair or poor. Millennials (15%) and Generation X (13%) were somewhat less likely to give themselves low mental health ratings, and Boomers (7%) and older adults (5%) seldom did so. Although 45% of those in Generation Z rated their mental health as excellent or very good, each of the other generations had higher percentages of favorable mental health ratings. In the Generation Z sample, 23% reported they had been diagnosed with depression, higher than each of the other generations. And 37% say they currently receive or have received treatment or therapy, a little more than the percentage of Millennials in treatment (35%) and well above each of the other generations.


The same survey asked members of each generation what they found stressful. Overall levels of stress were moderate for Generation Z (5.3 on a scale where 1 represents little or no stress and 10 represents a great deal of stress), as well as for Millennials (5.7) and Generation X (5.1). In contrast, Boomers (4.1) and Older Adults (3.3) experienced lower levels of stress.

When it came to particular stresses, Generation Z was more troubled than other generations by several events covered in the news. Some of these events are things that may evoke feelings of personal vulnerability. For example, 75% of Gen Z'ers reported feeling stressed by reports of mass shootings (vs. 62% of adults overall) and 53% were stressed by reports of sexual harassment or assaults (vs. 39% of adults overall). Other stressful news items may not have represented personal threats as much as troubling aspects of society, such as separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families (57% of Gen Z'ers reported stress over this, versus 45% of adults overall) and the rise in suicide rates (producing stress in 62% of Gen Z and 44% of adults overall). Global warming and climate change also produced stress in more members of Gen Z (58%) than in adults overall (51%).

Those members of Generation Z who have reached adulthood report significant personal stress related to having to fend for themselves. Thus, 77% describe work as a significant source of stress (as opposed to 64% of adults overall) and 81% are stressed about money (compared to 64% of adults overall). Surprisingly, a higher percentage of Gen Z'ers are stressed by health related concerns (75%) than are adults in general (63%). Additional personal sources of stress for many members of Generation Z include personal debt (33%), housing instability (31%), and hunger/getting enough to eat (28%).


Paul teaches us that God comforts us in our troubles in order that we may comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3-4). There are many who need our comfort; the research summarized above suggests that the Gen Z teens and young adults in our families may be among them. As a group, Gen Z'ers report more emotional difficulties than the rest of us and are more stressed by many of the troubling aspects of our society. Those who have reached adulthood are more prone than the rest of us to be stressed by work, money, and health as they begin their careers.

Even if the teens or young adults in your family haven't talked about having such difficulty, it's best not to assume that their mental health and stress levels are fine. After all, many young people are not forthcoming with their parents or grandparents about such matters. Compare the above findings with what you know about your child or grandchild and be on the lookout for signs of emotional troubles or difficulty handling stress. Give some thought to how to best respond if any of these emotional or stress-related issues come to light. And, if you notice signs of emotional problems or significant stress, consider discussing your observations with the child, inviting them to talk about how they are coping. Our young adult and teenaged children live in a different and in many ways more challenging time than what we grew up in, and a listening ear from a trusted adult can make it easier for them to bear the load.

About the author — Dr. Robert Ritzema

Bob Ritzema is a clinical psychologist, having received his doctorate from Kent State University. He has worked for over 25 years as a psychotherapist and more than 10 years as a college professor. He retired from Methodist University in 2012 to return to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan in order to assist his parents. He currently works part-time at Psychology Associates of Grand Rapids and worships at Monroe Community Church. He has two sons and three grandchildren.

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