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The Generational Gap in Perspectives on Mental Health

By Kara Ettenson, LMSW

The generational gap in terms of perspectives on mental health has widened over the years. According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, mental illnesses like depression are more stigmatized in older generations (i.e. Generation X) for whom the subject is a complete taboo and attached with various misconceptions. As a result, this generation often chooses to avoid accepting the existence of mental illness, setting an even longer path of suffering without therapy.

Several studies suggest younger generations have higher levels of mental health literacy, are better able to identify signs and symptoms of mental illness and have knowledge of where to seek help. 

While internet use might be related to mental health literacy in younger generations with younger people reporting they feel more comfortable seeking mental help online, the results may not be a proper professional diagnosis. A recent study by American University stated millennials who grew up hearing about anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and suicide are more accepting of others with mental illness.

One of the factors that impact the likelihood of conversation around mental health is the notion of choice. Mental illness is never chosen. It is a state of being that needs to be addressed, not concealed. And the idea that you can just switch off or stop over-thinking about your psychological state still exists within Generation X. 

Why is Gen Z Using Therapy More than Previous Generations?

The American Psychiatric Association has found Gen Z was more likely to have received treatment or gone to therapy (37 percent) compared to Millennials (35 percent), Gen X’ers (26 percent), Baby Boomers (22 percent), and the Silent Generation (15 percent). 

The reason for this trend of increased use of mental health services is likely due to factors like: 

  • Life overall has introduced a different variety of stressors that have led to increased psychological concerns and more need for mental health services.
  • Awareness of mental health issues has grown. What once might have been ignored is recognized as a problem and treated as such.
  • Stigma around using mental health services has lessened, making it more likely that Gen Z will identify their own issues and seek help when they feel the impact of a mental health problem that can be treated.

Why Is Gen Z More Open About Their Mental Health?

It is also possible the increased usage of therapy by Gen Z is a result of this generation being more open about their mental health. Being more aware of and accepting of mental health concerns in general will lead to more open discussion about psychological problems and how to manage stress.

All of these factors may have made it easier for Gen Z to talk openly about their mental health struggles compared to previous generations like Millenials and Gen X (many of their parents’ generation). Normalizing conversations about mental health means Gen Z has the ability to deal with their issues and move on rather than staying stuck — and that’s the choice many of them are making. 

This generation doesn’t want to be held back by mental health concerns. Instead, they’d like to get treatment for them so that they have good mental health to do the things that they want to do in life. 

Why Has the Stigma Lessened in the Era of Gen Z?

Gen Z has grown up in a world where it’s normal and considered natural to get treatment for psychological problems. They don’t know any different and therefore don’t attach negative feelings toward speaking about it. In fact, asking for help for mental health is viewed as a strength rather than a weakness. 

Gen Z has also grown up in a world where it is the norm for stigmas to be called out as unacceptable. This is especially true in how language has changed. For example, certain terms referring to mental health have become unacceptable to use because of their negative connotation. 

In addition, generations prior to Gen Z often possessed limited knowledge about mental health, relying on what their parents told them, what they learned in school, what was generally whispered or gossiped about in their personal lives and in popular culture.

How Do We Bridge the Gap Between the Generations?

To bridge the gap between the generations, it’s important to remove the stigma. It’s important to be more open to accepting help on issues that require guidance and support, as well as listen and communicate more openly and honestly with each other and across generations. Mental health does not change the core of a person or define who they are. It is a critical factor in our overall health and should be viewed as such.

If you feel like you aren’t sure how to best support your child, teen or young adult. Child and Family Solutions Center is here to help. Please call us at 248-851-5437 to get started with supportive services.