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16 May 2024

How educators can better support Gen Z's mental health during a polycrisis

By Bett
How educators can better support Gen Z's mental health during a polycrisis

Spending weekends glued to TikTok, signing into remote work in pajamas, reluctant to use the telephone – these familiar, and sometimes scathing, parodies of Gen Z are popular. However, they are also a distraction from a much darker reality.

While gradually decreasing stigma around mental health has meant people are more likely to talk about their struggles, data still suggests that Gen Z may be lonelier, more anxious, and more depressed than their predecessors.

What’s behind the declining mental health of today's 15-28 year olds? More importantly, what can we do about it?

Coming of age in a polycrisis

With world leaders describing our present day as an ongoing ‘polycrisis’, a plunge in mental wellbeing seems inevitable, especially among the generation on the precipice of adulthood. With the pandemic still looming in our collective consciousness, it seems inarguable that Gen Z came of age in one of the most disruptive, unprecedented and traumatic periods of recent human history.

Gen Z was barricaded indoors while a virus raged through the global population, thwarting their studies, their entry into the job market, and severing essential social connections with peers, mentors and support systems. Research shows the pandemic led to higher rates of anxiety, depression and smartphone addiction, effects which continue to play out in the post-pandemic world.

The last few years have also seen a shift to working and studying online and a cost-of-living crisis, and Gen Z’s social life has taken the hit. With fewer opportunities to build social networks, today’s young people are missing the relationships that are so vital for emotional support, social development and even economic opportunities.

Gen Z is also bombarded by negative headlines in a ceaseless digital news cycle. The climate crisis in particular seems to be affecting young people more. In a global survey, more than 45% of respondents aged 16-25 said that their feelings about climate change negatively affect their daily lives, with more than half saying they believed humanity was doomed. Eco-anxiety has been shown to increase feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessless and guilt – a heady cocktail for young people already grappling with their identities, their relationships and their careers.

As educators, mentors and parents, helping young people navigate these complex challenges can feel overwhelming. But among the many challenges young people face, it’s crucial for older generations to keep one other factor in mind: Gen Z’s resilience.

Addressing the youth mental health crisis

Organisations like Beyond have recognised young people’s capability and are working with them to improve their wellbeing. Educators and institutions can learn from this approach, acting as guides and buffers as young people navigate the transition to adulthood.

Beyond gives educators access to networks, support, training, financial assistance and more. As a starting point, educators can look to:

  • The Beyond Youth Directory: For educators looking for specific forms of support, Beyond’s Youth Directory acts as a yellow pages for services. From individual counselling to art therapy, the directory lists over 300 clinician-vetted providers. Moreover, institutions in need can apply for critical financial support to help young people in need.
  • The Now and Beyond Festival: For many educators or education leaders, it can be difficult to know where to start or how to approach mental health in the classroom. The Now and Beyond Festival equips educators with tools like lesson plans, workshops and live video content that help bring vital conversations about mental health into your classroom. 
  • Youth champions: The most powerful advocates for young people’s health are young people themselves. As with Beyond’s youth board, identifying young leaders and encouraging them to use their voices to decrease stigma and raise awareness is one of the most effective ways to encourage positive change.

As we work to help young people navigate today’s turbulence, it’s important to recognise that in many ways, they have taken matters into their own hands – leading climate change activism, forging connections online to build genuine social networks through their digital platforms and becoming financially savvy early. 

Today’s young people are immensely capable. Though the deck is seemingly stacked against them, Gen Z is learning how to play their hand.


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