Supporting the Mental Health of Millennials and Gen Z

Mental Health challenges continue to rise, and the pandemic added additional pressures. So what can we do to ensure people emerge healthier and more resilient?

A mental health crisis was emerging even before the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly one-third of millennials and the Gen Z population (18–39 year olds) reporting a mental health or substance use problem. It’s no secret the pandemic added additional stressors, such as financial constraints, job insecurity, and social isolation, which has caused the numbers to rise even higher.

Poll results show that 41% of Gen Z and millennials reported dealing with anxiety and depression, compared to 15% of Boomers. This has caused an increase in substance use, with nearly 25% of Gen Z adults and 20% of millennials reporting increased substance use to help deal with stress and emotions. A nearly equal number of people reported thoughts of suicide.

The good news is that younger Americans are also the most likely to seek support and guidance. An important step in getting help for you or a loved one starts with recognizing the symptoms.

Anxiety can look different in different people. A few common symptoms to look for are:

  • Feeling restless or wound-up
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Being irritable
  • Having headaches, muscle aches, stomachaches, or unexplained pains
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep

Depression can also present in different ways, it’s more than simply feeling “sad” or “down.” Some symptoms may include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Signs that a suicidal crisis may be imminent include:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

Offering Support

It’s important to identify the triggers that are causing stress in order to start managing it. Some examples of possible triggers are financial difficulties or relational issues. By understanding the factors that can be controlled, you can better direct your attention to tasks and goals that can be accomplished.

Another helpful coping technique is to practice meditation, mindfulness, improve eating and sleeping habits, and avoiding alcohol/recreational drugs. It’s also important to communicate with your support system, which can include family, friends, or mental health professionals.

If a loved one is showing signs of depression, the first step is to have a conversation, listen and validate the person’s feelings and concerns. Similarly, having a conversation is a good place to start with someone voicing thoughts of suicide. These can be hard for everyone involved, due to the mental health stigma and seriousness of the issue. Here are some ways NAMI recommends starting the conversation:

Lean in. The only real way to know is to ask. When you feel your “Spidey senses” tingle or you wonder, “Should I be worried?”—lean in. Ask. 

Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Notice and acknowledge your feelings, and do your best to get centered before you start the conversation.

Create a safe space. Find a place for privacy and comfort. Take cues from the person about physical proximity and intensity of eye contact.

Start with, “I’ve noticed….”Thank them for taking time to speak with you, and list the observations you’ve made that led you to be concerned. Speak about specific times and places where they were not themselves.

Ask open-ended questions. To get the conversation going, ask open-ended questions like, “I’d like to understand more about what you’re going through. Can you tell me more?”

Practice active listening. Refrain from problem-solving and advice-giving. Show them that they are being heard.

Know your resources. Be familiar with the support resources you have in your community. Some examples might be a school counseling center, an EAP program, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or the Crisis Text Line. This will help you know how to best follow up after the conversation.

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides free and confidential assessment and counseling services. If you are interested in hearing more about the benefits, call BHS at 800-245-1150. Your dedicated Care Coordinator is available to help you get started today!