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Gen Z: Studies Show Higher Rates of Depression

FILE -- Laurel Foster, who is among a group of teens involved in Stanford University research testing whether smartphones can be used to help detect depression and potential self-harm, holds her phone in San Francisco, Nov. 1, 2018.

One in a series on Generation Z.

Generation Z, which is predicted to overtake all previous generations in size as they age and older generations die out, has been beset by mental health issues such as depression and suicide more than previous generations at this age.

Gen Z is the least likely to report good or excellent mental health, according to an American Psychological Association (APA) study of Gen Z in October 2018. And just as concerning as the prevalence of stress in this population is its struggle to manage it.

A new study by the JAMA Network of medical journals shows that suicide rates for America’s youth reached a peak in 2017, with the suicide rate for Americans of all ages increasing 30% from the years 2000 to 2016, according to CDC data.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 34 in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
The authors of the study said the youth suicide rate, which reached 14.6 per 100,000, appears to be the highest since the government began collecting such data in 1960.

Suicide rates for girls and young women doubled between 2000 and 2017. Rates for boys and young men showed a similar increase over the same period, but suicide rates spiked about four years ago, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

In 2017, young men ages 15 to 19 killed themselves at a rate of 17.9 per 100,000, up from 13 per 100,000 in 2000. Contributing to the high youth depression and suicide rates in America are social media use and a greater willingness of families and officials to acknowledge suicide as a cause of death, the authors of the JAMA study said.

“I think a lot of people in my generation struggle with it due to the fact that we are so connected via the internet and social media, which brings a lot of pressure,” said Margo Joel, 21, of New Jersey.

Social media has provided Gen Zers an intense connectivity with the world around them, but somehow, according to a 2018 survey, they are still the loneliest.

Gen Z had the highest score on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, which has been the standard measurement for studying loneliness since 1978.

FILE - Greta Thunberg, center, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks at an event during a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 2019.
FILE - Greta Thunberg, center, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaks at an event during a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 2019.

Issues in the news, which Gen Zers absorb mostly through social media, including climate change, mass shootings, separation of migrant families and widespread sexual assault reports, are more distressing to Gen Zers than they are to members of older generations, according to Pew Social Trends.

Between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression among those ages 14 to 17 increased by more than 60%, according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. The increases were nearly as steep among ages 12 to 13 (47%) and 18 to 21 (46%), and rates roughly doubled among ages 20 to 21.

In 2017, the latest year for which federal data are available, more than 1 in 8 Americans ages 12 to 25 experienced a major depressive episode, the study found.

Though 37% of Gen Zers — more than any other generation — reported receiving help from a mental health professional, only half said they felt they did enough to manage their stress. Nearly three-quarters of these individuals also said they could have used more emotional support over the past year.

“Among Gen Z adults (ages 18 to 21), common symptoms of stress include feeling depressed or sad (58%), lack of interest, motivation or energy (55%) or feeling nervous or anxious (54%),” the APA report stated. “During the prior month, adult Gen Zs also commonly reported laying awake at night due to stress (68%) or eating too much, or eating unhealthy food (58%).”

Climate change and global warming are looming over the heads of Gen Zers, who will largely be the ones who will deal with the effects. In the APA report, 58% said climate change and global warming concern them, compared with 51% of adults overall.

Gun violence is another crucial issue for Gen Zers, with 75% of them — compared with 62% of adults overall — calling mass shootings a significant source of stress, according to the annual Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. Clusters of episodes such as recent mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio, weigh heavily on Gen Z.

Sixty-two percent called rising suicide rates a source of stress, compared to 44% of adults overall; 53% said the same of reported sexual harassment and assault, compared to 39% of adults overall; and 57% were stressed by family separations, compared to 45% of adults overall.

Work, finances and health-related concerns all stressed out more Gen Z adults than adults overall, the report said. Money was the most common source of stress, affecting 81% of Gen Z adults and 64% of adults overall.

There has been a cultural shift in how people think and talk about depression and suicide in the past few decades, which has increased reporting.