According to several studies, teenagers and college-aged adults classified in the Gen Z cohort are experiencing higher rates of depression than the previous generation. And experts don’t know exactly why.
Behaviors thought to have contributed to depression in previous generational cohorts, such as alcohol and substance use and antisocial or risky behavior are actually lower in Generation Z, but depression is on the rise nevertheless.
Take a look at some of the possible reasons why Gen Z may be experiencing greater rates of depression and how to recognize signs of depression in a young adult that you care about.
Is Gen Z’s Social Media Use to Blame?
For people who grew up without social media, or for whom social media was newer and less prevalent during their formative years than it is now, social media is a handy scapegoat for any number of problems, from failing grades to sleeplessness to rising rates of depression.
But is social media really to blame for Gen Z’s depression problem?
It’s a possibility, but that’s all that it is. On the one hand, the rise in rates of depression and anxiety tracks with the way that the social media landscape has changed how young people spend their time and connect with their peers.
Teens and young adults today spend less time face-to-face with other people and more time in front of screens than previous generations, and it’s possible that this may be contributing to the greater rates of depression in this age group.
On the other hand, some experts warn that this is a speculative conclusion. Without studies that examine groups of young people who use social media in a typical way versus groups of young people who are not exposed to social media at all, it’s difficult to make the case that social media is definitely the problem.
And social media has some obvious benefits for young people:
- It allows people with niche interests to find each other and connect.
- It offers accessibility for people who are geographically isolated.
- Support groups and other social groups are more immediately accessible for everyone.
While over-reliance on social media and other internet-based communication may pose problems for some, it’s too soon to say that social media is the definitive cause of Gen Z’s rising depression.
Mass Shootings in the Media
Surveys of teenagers reveal that a significant percentage of young people feel stress about mass shootings. This is perhaps not surprising, given that many of the most widely reported mass shootings also happen to be school shootings, often taking place in high schools.
It’s understandable that teens and college-aged students may feel most at risk for being victims in a mass shooting scenario and therefore more stressed about the possibility of mass shootings than other age groups, and that this may lead to feelings of depression for some young people.
Stress over mass shootings may increase when a shooting occurs in the teen’s own community or one nearby, when a mass shooting makes headlines and stays in the news cycle for an extended period of time, or when a significant event is coming up that raises the possibility of a mass shooting, like a local concert or festival or the first day of school.
It’s important to talk to teens about their concerns surrounding gun violence and mass shootings and acknowledge their feelings of fear or anxiety.
Other Headline Trends
Surveys also show that Gen Z respondents are more concerned about other headline issues than the previous generations are.
Specifically, large numbers of Gen Z report stress about the separation of immigrant families and deportation of immigrants, about sexual assault and harassment claims, and about climate change and global warming.
These issues are difficult to avoid – they’re not only in the headlines and on social media, but they also affect communities in a real way. For example, by high school, it’s not uncommon for teens to have already experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, or even sexual assault, and they can relate those experiences to the reports they see in the news.
Teens worried about immigration and deportation issues may be concerned for their friends or peers who may be personally affected, or even for their own family members – or themselves.
What’s more, teenagers may feel helpless to do anything to create change about issues that are worrying them, and young adults may feel overwhelmed by upsetting news and not up to the task of solving problems that they identify. This can also contribute to feelings of depression.
Signs of Depression in Gen Z
One bright spot is that while Gen Z may be more prone to depression than previous generations, they’re also more likely to seek and receive help for mental illnesses than previous generations.
Mental illnesses are more widely recognized, discussed, and supported than ever before, which means that if today’s young people are more depressed than their parents and older siblings, they at least have more resources at their disposal to get their depression treated.
Still, parents, educators, and other adults need to be aware of the signs of depression in teens and young adults and ready to facilitate intervention and treatment when necessary. Some signs of depression in teens and young adults include:
- Feelings of sadness.
- Crying spells for no apparent reason.
- Frustration and anger, even over seemingly inconsequential matters.
- Loss of interest in friends, family, or activities.
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
- Excessive sensitivity to rejection, failure, or setbacks.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- The sense that their future is uncertain or bleak.
- Thinking about or discussing suicide.
Young people experiencing these or other troubling symptoms can benefit from counseling or therapy.
In most cases, depression is very treatable with therapy or medications, or with a combination of the two. Being able to recognize the warning signs of depression in a young person can help you take action to get them the help that they need to improve their quality of life.