Gun violence, political turmoil and personal problems are causing significant stress among America’s teenagers and youngest adults, according to a new report.
Members of Gen Z — people ages 15 to 21 — reported the worst mental health of any generation included in the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America report, which was based on almost 3,500 interviews with people ages 18 and older, plus 300 interviews with teenagers ages 15 to 17.
Just 45% of those in Gen Z reported “excellent” or “very good” mental health, compared to 56% of Millennials, 51% of Gen X individuals, 70% of Boomers and 74% of adults older than 73. Of the Gen Z respondents, 27% called their mental health “fair” or “poor” — and stress seems to be largely to blame, with 91% of Gen Z adults saying they had felt physical or emotional symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, associated with stress.
Stress levels were high across generations. The average reported level across age groups was a 4.9 out of 10. But while older adults tended to fall below this line — the averages among Boomers and older adults were 4.1 and 3.3, respectively — the opposite was true for younger generations. Gen X had an average stress level of 5.1, and Millennials had the highest overall, at 5.7. Gen Z fell in the middle, at 5.3, but in many categories, the youngest age group felt more stress than older peers.
Gun violence seemed to be a particularly large source of stress for the school-aged generation, with 75% of those in Gen Z calling mass shootings a significant source of stress. Seventy-two percent said the same of school shootings, and 21% of Gen Z students said the thought of a shooting occurring at their school was a constant or frequent source of stress. Their parents agree: 74% of parents included in the survey called school shootings a significant source of stress.
Other issues in the news, from rising suicide rates to sexual harassment to migrant family separation, also sparked more stress among Gen Z individuals than those in other generations, according to the report. 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.
Despite these national issues, just 54% of Gen Z adults said they planned to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, lower than any other age group. (Still, there are signs voter turnout in this age group is increasing; other recent research suggests that significantly more young people will vote this year than in 2010 and 2014.)
But it’s not just the news that’s bringing young adults down. Work, finances and health-related concerns all stressed out more Gen Z adults than adults overall, the report says. Money was the most common source of stress, affecting 81% of Gen Z adults and 64% of adults overall.
Just as concerning as the prevalence of stress was the struggle to manage it. Though 37% of Gen Z individuals — 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 also said they could have used more emotional support over the past year.
Other recent surveys have shown that levels of loneliness are high among young people, which may contribute to the stress epidemic. Research has shown that a strong social network can help mitigate the effects of stress and improve mental health overall. Social media doesn’t seem to be helping, either — while about half said it was a source of support, another 45% said social media made them feel judged, and 38% said it made them feel bad about themselves.
Having difficulty coping with stress wasn’t just a Gen Z trait. About 20% of all survey respondents said they didn’t do enough to manage their stress.
There is a bright spot, however: Despite high levels of stress and frustration with the national and political climate, 75% of all respondents said they feel hopeful about their future.