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Does Gen Z struggle more with mental health than millennials? New polling shows signs of a shift

Originally Published: 14 SEP 23 00:01 ET

Updated: 14 SEP 23 17:07 ET

By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN

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(CNN) — A smaller share of Gen Z is thriving compared to millennials at the same age, and members of Gen Z are far less likely to describe their mental health as “excellent,” according to a new study.

“Less than half (47%) of Gen Z Americans are thriving in their lives — among the lowest across all generations in the U.S. today and a much lower rate than millennials at the same age,” a report from Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation said.

The study, released Thursday, aims to reflect the voices of Gen Z on key issues the generation faces. Researchers surveyed more than 3,000 people aged 12-26 in April and May of this year.

“Decisions affecting public policy, learning environments and workplaces should consider the perspectives of — not about — Gen Z, the challenges they face and the solutions that best suit their unique needs,” the study said.

Researchers said a scale measuring whether people are thriving, struggling or suffering is a telling metric. Respondents were asked to rate how they saw their current and future lives, and defined as thriving if they gave high ratings in both categories.

Only 41% of Gen Z members aged 18 to 26 are thriving, according to the study, while millennials at the same age were thriving at a rate of about 60%.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind: Generational research is controversial.

Some scholars argue generation labels are harmful and unscientific.

And earlier this year, the Pew Research Center pointed out that some trends that appear to be generational shifts may actually be differences based on life stage and age that can change over time.

Researchers say there’s evidence Gen Z’s mental health struggles are different

Compared with older generations today, the Gallup-WFF study said members of Gen Z are much more likely to report experiencing negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and loneliness.

Researchers also said they found “evidence that Gen Z’s self-reported mental health struggles are distinct from those of previous generations at the same age.” Asked to describe their current mental health or well-being, only 15% of members of Gen Z aged 18-26 said it was excellent.

That’s a steep drop compared to a decade ago, the study found, when 52% of millennials in that same age range said their mental health was excellent. And in 2004, 55% of people aged 18-26 (including both millennials and Gen X respondents) reported excellent mental health.

Why was there such a significant decrease? Researchers noted that overall declines in mental health over the past decade may be partially responsible. According to the study, both millennials and members of Gen X “report far lower mental health ratings” today than they did a decade ago.

This isn’t the first research highlighting Gen Z’s mental health struggles.

Earlier this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said poor mental health remains a “substantial public health problem” for adolescents, especially among teen girls.

A 2018 report from the American Psychological Association found that, compared to other generations, more members of Gen Z thought their mental health was fair or poor. At the time, the association’s CEO called the shift concerning, but noted there could also be a positive sign.

“This generation may be more tuned in to recognizing issues with their mental health than older generations,” psychologist Arthur Evans said.

Another characteristic of Gen Z: optimism

The picture members of Gen Z paint of their lives is far from bleak.

More than three quarters of members of Gen Z agree they have a great future ahead of them, according to the study.

“There is quite an enduring optimism in the face of mental health struggles for this generation,” the study says.

Despite this optimism, the study also notes that less than half of members of Gen Z feel they’re prepared for the future.

Pollsters also asked Gen Z about other topics

Mental health isn’t the only issue the study explores.

Other findings include:

• About half (53%) of Gen Z students who want to pursue higher education believe they’ll be able to afford it
• 40% of Gen Z students said they worried a lot or some about gun violence at their school
• Making “enough money to live comfortably” is Gen Z’s “most frequently cited hope for the future,” with 69% of those surveyed ranking it among their top wishes

Researchers said this study is their first report on this nationally representative group, but it won’t be the last. They plan to keep surveying members of Gen Z going forward to provide more data for policymakers.

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