After recently being added to the Subtle Depressed People Traits group on Facebook, I enjoyed laughing in my room late at night, scrolling from a macabre Winne the Pooh joke about mental illness to a self-deprecating tweet complaining about being lonely but never leaving the house. These are the jokes for the generation of kids who are trying to cope.
The past decade saw a rise in mental illness and mental health awareness in schools and in my own life. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression in early 2016. At first, I was embarrassed about the stigma, worried that others would not want to associate with someone so unstable. Going into college, I felt like I had “ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION WATCH OUT” scrawled in black Sharpie on my forehead. However, the more I opened up to others, I found that many students were struggling with what I was.
Generation Z, those born from 1997 onward (according to the Pew Research Center), has grown up amid the divisive politics, mass shootings, sexual harassment and climate change of the 2010s. The American Psychological Association’s October 2018 study “Stress in America: Generation Z” wrote, “America’s youngest adults are most likely of all generations to report poor mental health, and Gen Z is also significantly more likely to seek professional help for mental health issues.”
The APA survey found that a major stressor for Generation Z was gun violence caused by mass shootings and school shootings. By the time the Pulse (2016), Las Vegas (2017) and Parkland (2018) mass shootings had happened, our generation grew anxious of the reality that it could happen at any of the malls, high schools or concerts that we were attending. The panic over continued mass shootings opened up a conversation about gun control, followed by the backlash for politicizing a tragedy, ultimately burying the discussion of gun laws until the next mass shooting. The resilience of Gen Z activists like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, survivors of the Parkland school shooting, sparked the March for Our Lives movement and a national conversation. A few days after the Walmart shooting in El Paso, I remember being on the second floor of a Target and wondering how I would escape if there was a shooter. It is this kind of anxiety that proliferates around our generation.
While politics in America were forever changed in the 2016 elections, Gen Z-ers continued to charge through childhood and adolescence surrounded by the white noise of this divisive political era. The normalization of acts like deportation and family separation has led our generation to become almost numb to the news cycles and Twitter battles. The #MeToo movement opened up an entire system of sexual harassment and oppression of the powerless by the those in power, unveiling the systemic levels of silence and cover-up, a rude awakinging for young women espeically. I hope I can speak for most college students when I say I can remember holding my breath during the Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh hearings. It felt like “he said” would eventually trump “she said,” and it was enraging to witness.
All the while, climate change’s detrimental effects continue to escalate to unprecedented levels by anthropogenic causes, like air and water pollution. Even with the overwhelming support and evidence from the scientific community, leaders within our country and around the world continue to ignore how pressing and dire our climate crisis is. Another Gen Z activist, Greta Thunberg, is leading the charge and inspiring Generation Z and others to become more vocal and steadfast in fighting for our beliefs.
Generation Z is known for their mental health, but maybe our identity stems from more than just increasing levels of anxiety about our changing world. I believe it also displays our generation’s ability to show vulnerability about our anxieties and the effects they bring, leading to mental health awareness popping up as a conversation topic and, sometimes, outright theme at college events and high school pep rallies.
A Wall Street Journal article this past May stated that companies are now implementing mental health seminars and protocols for their employees in the wake of Gen Z’s enterance into the workforce. The rise of stress management apps and programs is just the start of the major de-stigmatization of mental illness and the embracing of the importance of mental health in overall well-being.
When a tumultuous world called, Generation Z bit back with internet culture blended with creative genius and a sharp sense of humor. We are the generation that cuts darkness with humor and wit, attempting to diffuse the tension and fear, to allow ourselves to bond over shared anxieties and feel less alone in these chaotic times.