Temas de Capa

Youth mental health: An everyone’s problem

saude mental - jovens - milenio stadium


Young people between the ages of 10 and 25 years old. They’re called Generation Z and the online world is a daily reality for these groups, also considered digital natives: from earliest youth have been exposed to the internet, the social networks and mobile systems. They have much more access to information about the world, maybe that’s why they are also more concerned with social justice problems and universal topics, like climate change, for example. Even though they’re young, these groups of people have already been exposed to a world pandemic and now are suffering the economic consequences of it. Also, what characterizes this generation is the struggle with mental health issues as different researches have shown. The question is: why are they suffering so much with anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns? Do we even have a one single answer or are the combinations of a lot of factors causing this situation?

In the search for these answers, Milénio Stadium dedicated this edition to this concerning topic and the importance of the awareness around it, we have interviewed two sociologists. Michael Halpin is an Assistant Professor of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Dalhousie University and Jason Edgerton, has a Ph.D and is also a Professor on the Department of Sociology and Criminology in the University of Manitoba. They both have similar opinions about some topics, such as the awareness increase of mental health that led to these major numbers of mental health issues, the influence of social media in this generation – and how this can be harmful to them -, the pandemic that generates increasing distressful factors and the Professors also presented their visions about youth future in this matter- mental health- warning us that difficult times are ahead of us, that’s why awareness and action are so important.

milenio stadium - Professor Michael HalpinMilénio Stadium: Different studies and research have shown that Generation Z youth (individuals between 10 – 25 years old) are presenting higher levels of mental health issues compared to previous generations. How is this related to the way society has changed throughout the years?
Michael Halpin – Assistant Professor: There are a few factors here. First, Generation Z is not stigmatizing mental illnesses to the same degree as previous generations. They see mental illnesses as something that can be discussed, rather than something that needs to be hidden. Part of this is driven by social media, where people are sharing their mental health concerns and receiving support and validation from others. So, one factor is that Generation Z is not hiding mental illness, while other generations were/are. It’s not just that mental illness might be up among Generation Z, but that other generations were under reporting mental illness. Second, much sociological work suggests that social stressors can cause mental illness. For instance, job loss and experiencing racism have been connected to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. There have been several large social stressors that have impacted Generation Z, including the 2008 recession, COVID-19, and our current/looming inflation crisis and recession. In addition to this, there are several other chronic social problems that are obvious right now – including economic inequality, decreasing affordability, the increased cost of housing, the increased cost of education, systemic racism, and looming environmental catastrophes. Generation Z has encountered many stressful events and we’d expect such stress to be related to mental health. Third, as I address in more detail below, social media certainty has an impact on the mental health of Generation Z.
Jason Edgerton, Professor: I think the picture is more complicated than just saying Gen Z has higher rates of mental health than recent generations. A key issue is extent to which mental health issues are recognized, acknowledged and/ or identified as mental health problems which in turn affects the rate at which they reported as such within systems like education, social services and healthcare. It is quite possible that the underlying prevalence of mental health issues (for example, depression and anxiety are not new) is similar to what it was in previous generations, they were just not labelled as such, were not talked about and hence were not reported. More people suffered in silence. By way of analogy, there has been significant increase in awareness of concussions in sports and corresponding efforts in terms of education, prevention (e.g. equipment and rule changes) and harm reduction (e.g. concussion protocols) in relation to taking them very seriously. In previous generations that was unheard of, a player may have ‘got his bell rung’ but after a brief rest they were expected to get back into the game, the understanding of brain trauma and long-term consequences was negligible for most people. This doesn’t necessarily mean concussions became more widespread or problematic a few years ago, just that we as a society became more aware of the seriousness of the problem.
It is similar with mental health, the rates of reported mental health problems have increased as awareness has increased. And this is not just for younger generations but for adults as well now. People are now more able to recognize the symptoms of mental health and to identify it as such. Of course, while there has been much progress in treating mental health problems, there is still much work to be done and much investment to be made in making mental health resources available in our society.

MS: How is social media affecting Generation Z?
MH: Social media is impacting the mental health of Generation Z in three major ways. First, social media is damaging the mental health of Generation Z (and other generations) by impacting self-esteem and self-image. Numerous studies have suggested that social media use can increase the incidence of mental illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. In part, they are comparing themselves to what they see on social media in a negative ways, which is damaging their mental health. Second, social media as a tool is disrupting many parts of our lives. Social media use and overall screen time can decrease our participation in healthy behaviours. For instance, people report that screen time impacts their ability to exercise and disrupts their sleep. Such disruptions can diminish our mental health. So regardless of what Gen Z might be doing on social media, using social media can decrease overall health in a way that also impacts mental health. Third, there is evidence that social media is creating “sociogenic” illnesses. Sociogenic means caused by society, or your social group. In this case, this would be mental disorders that are not caused by some sort of internal physiological and psychological dysfunction, but disorders that are caused by how we see other people. For instance, the number of people reporting that they had Tourette’s Syndrome or Dissociative Identity Disorder (previous called multiple personality disorder) increased dramatically after Tik Tok accounts featuring those disorders became popular. The idea here is that people who would have otherwise not have these symptoms are reporting them after seeing them online.
milenio stadium - Professor Jason EdgertonJE: In terms of mental health it can be problematic. For example, bullying didn’t used to follow students home from school as it does now. Online bullying is a very serious issue for those kids who have endured it, kids can be even meaner online as there is something disinhibiting about not having to look a person in the face as you say mean things about them, kids can be quite mean when they are interacting online or posting about others. There is also probably a harmful aspect to the constant voyeuristic consumption of others curated online lives. If kids are constantly watching the supposedly amazing lives of online influencers and celebrities, it is bound to have some negative impact on their assessment of their own life circumstances. Relatedly, the ever-present nature of online social media is also potentially problematic, who would want to study when you can at any moment, with a swipe of your smartphone, go down the rabbit hole of TikTok videos for a couple hours instead. There is also research suggesting the nature of much online content (brief, action-packed, quick-changing) has negative effects on attention-spans and task-related focus.

MS: Have Covid-19 played a role in this reality between younger people?
MH: Yes, absolutely. COVID-19 is impacting the mental health of everyone. First, COVID-19 is a major stressor for all of us, including Generation Z. As I mentioned above, many sociological studies connect stress to mental health and we’d expect such a major stressful event to produce mental illness or decrease mental health. Second, as a result of COVID-19, many of us had to spend more time using screens and more time online. As I mentioned above, screen time and social media are also impacting mental health. Third, COVID-19 impacted our social networks and how we interact with other people. Many people had to isolate. Many of us were not able to see friends and family. Social isolation has been consistently connected with decreased physical and mental health and, as far as the sociological literature is concerned, is one of the most damaging experiences for our health. Additionally, our social connections – our bonds with friends and family members – can protect our mental health, especially in times of stress. Having these relationships disrupted is also bad for our health. These impacts were perhaps worse for Gen Z than some other groups, as they were having disruptions in their education, disruptions in their ability to secure their first jobs, and disruptions in terms of forming romantic relationships.
JE: I think it has to the extent that it has provided the conditions for kids to spend evermore time online. Many parents found themselves relenting on the restrictions they placed on their kids’ online activity during the pandemic (kids were doing school online and they couldn’t see their friends in person), and once the genie is out of the bottle…it is a challenge to get kids online habits back down to pre-pandemic levels.

MS: Some experts pointed out that the way this generation was raised, with overprotective parents, can be a cause of these mental problems. Do you agree and is this a tendency for next generations too?
MH: I agree that parenting can be associated with mental health and illness, but this is true for all generations. We could also argue that the stereotypical distant and cold parents of the 1950s were also bad for their children’s mental health. Parenting is a relevant factor for mental illness, but it is just one of many relevant factors. With mental illness, as with many physical illnesses, there are often multiple causes. I would also caution against simply ‘blaming parents’ for the mental health of any generation, as this tends to remove focus from other factors – such as economic stress and lack of opportunities – that are also very relevant to our mental health.
JE: The generational blame-game has been around for decades. Every generation complains about the succeeding generation –the WW II generation complaining about Boomers, Boomers complaining about Gen X, etc. There is certainly a body of writing that identifies helicopter parents and the sort as a problem. Have overprotective parents raised a generation of hothouse flower children who are unequipped for life’s adversity? In my opinion the generational trend theories tend to be oversimplistic and to try to explain too much with too little. Quite frankly, the helicopter parent phenomenon is largely contained to a certain strata of the middle and upper middle classes. For most kids, having parents that are too involved is not the problem. On the more general question of children lacking resilience because their parents sheltered them from life’s cruel lessons, I think this is likely somewhat overblown too. It could be true for some, and there is certainly something to be said for learning to overcome adversity. It is also just as likely for some youth, that they have been led to have very high expectations and that the reality has been very disillusioning. For example, for the first time in several generations, most children cannot realistically expect to out-earn their parents (the idea of social mobility increasing with each generation) in the wake of a shrinking middle-class and growing economic inequality.

MS: Socially speaking, there’s still some stigma related to dealing with mental health issues. How can we improve in this aspect?
MH: Some recent studies suggest we are doing quite a good job in reducing the stigma of mental illness. In fact, Millennials and Generation Z are really leading the way in this area, as they are far less likely than previous generations to stigmatize people with mental illnesses. In terms of what we can do – I think we need to move beyond awareness campaigns – campaigns that aim to decrease stigma by making people aware of mental illnesses, and how common mental illnesses are. This message is important, but we also need to start addressing the inequalities experienced by people with mental disorders. For instance, people with schizophrenia have higher rates of unemployment than people with any other form of illness or disability. Likewise, while more people report seeing mental illnesses as illnesses that are just like physical illnesses, they still prefer to have distance from people with mental illnesses. The next big step in addressing the stigma of mental illness is changing how we treat people with mental illnesses and making sure that our society is fair for them.
JE: Certainly, there is still stigma, we can understand that someone can’t just heal their broken arm with will power but we have trouble grasping that for someone struggling with a bout of debilitating depression, for example. But we have come a long way with public education campaigns and celebrity disclosures forcing mental health issues out of the shadow. Think of Shawn Mendes postponing his recent world tour due to mental health-related concerns or tennis star Naomi Osaka stepping back from competing for a while to take care of her mental health. Many other celebrities have shared their struggles and public awareness campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk. There is still a distance to go (especially in terms of making mental health supports available to the broader public), but we have come a long way from the old days of shame and isolation.

MS: How do you foresee the future of our society?
MH: That’s a big question! In relation to mental health, I think the short-term picture is rather grim. There are several looming social crises in Canada and other countries – affordability, recession, pandemics, war, inflation, housing, social division, etc. These are big social problems without easy or quick solutions. Because these are big problems with a lot of negative impacts, I expect that we’d see increasing incidence of mental illness. I am also not optimistic about the future in terms of social isolation. Some studies suggest that we are becoming lonelier and more isolated, and this is also very bad for our mental health. We are also going to have to grapple with new technology – such as virtual reality, altered reality, and the metaverse – and the impacts that technology will have on our mental health. There are types of mental health problems a few years in our future that we can’t even imagine right now. I am optimistic about stigma. Younger generations are changing how mental illnesses are viewed and I think this is positive for how we treat people with mental illnesses.
JE: This is a huge question. If you ask me what are the two biggest crises facing us –I would say climate change and growing economic inequality, and both of these are growing sources of stress that have major implications for mental health.

Lizandra Ongaratto/MS

Redes Sociais - Comentários

Artigos relacionados

Back to top button


O Facebook/Instagram bloqueou os orgão de comunicação social no Canadá.

Quer receber a edição semanal e as newsletters editoriais no seu e-mail?


Mais próximo. Mais dinâmico. Mais atual.
O mesmo de sempre, mas melhor!