New Survey Reflects Unprecedented Levels of Behavioral Health Issues in Gen Z

FJ Thomas

Sarasota, FL ( – You might want to keep an eye on those younger employees, according to a recent survey conducted by McKinsey & Company and a warning issued last month by the U.S. Surgeon General.

On Dec. 7, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a national advisory on the mental health issues brought to the surface by the pandemic. According to the advisory, even before the pandemic 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 struggled with having an emotional, mental, developmental, or behavioral disorder. From 2009 to 2019, US high school students saw a 40 percent increase to 1 in 3 students that struggled with feelings of helplessness and persistent feelings of sadness. Suicidal behaviors in teens increased within the same time period, with 19 percent seriously contemplating suicide, representing a 36 percent increase in 10 years. Additionally, 16 percent of tens made a suicide plan the previous year, representing a 44 percent increase. In children and adults aged 10 to 24, the suicide rate increase by 57 percent from 2007 to 2018. Additionally, according to estimates show around 6,600 suicide deaths in the same age group for 2020.

Recognizing these young people are now entering the workforce, McKinsey & Company conducted a recent survey of Gen Z, categorized as age 16 to 24. Gen Z reported the least positive outlook out of all the generations polled. Twenty-five percent of Gen Z participants reported being emotionally stressed, a total twice that of Gen X and millennials at 13 percent each. Only 8 percent of the Boomer population polled reported feeling emotionally distressed.

According to the survey, Gen Z was 1.4 to 2.3 times as likely to report being diagnosed with a mental health condition as Gen X and Boomers. They were also 1.9 to 4.1 times more likely to be diagnosed with a substance-use disorder. Additionally, 2 to 3 times more of the Gen Z participants indicated that they had thought about, attempted or made suicide plans from late 2019 to late 2020.

More of the Gen Z respondents reported being socially unsatisfied, with 58 percent reporting two or more unmet social needs. Comparatively only 16 percent of the older generations reported social dissatisfaction. Perceived social needs included income, food, housing, education, employment, transportation, social support, and safety. According to a 2019 McKinsey & Company report, those with mental health issues are twice as likely to report unmet social needs. Additionally, those with mental health issues are four times as likely to report 3 or more basic unmet needs.

To further complicate matters, Gen Z was 1.6 to 1.8 times more likely than older respondents to report not seeking treatment for mental health issues. Some of the factors for not seeking out medical care included developmental stage, withdrawal of their healthcare, beliefs about cost, and stigmas surrounding mental health among their peers and families. Additionally, Gen Z reported being less engaged in their healthcare overall than the older participants. Lack of control over their health and lifespan, a lack of health consciousness, and not being as proactive about their health were factors cited for non-engagement.

When asked about their most sought out sources of medical care and information, Gen Z reported turning to emergency care, social media, and social tools as their support sources for behavioral health issues. According to the survey responses, Gen Z was 1 to 4 times as likely to use the ER, and 2 to 3 times as like to use urgent care or crisis services for behavioral health issues. One reason cited in the use of the ER was the wait time to see a psychiatrist.

Gen Z respondents also reported a higher dissatisfaction with the behavioral health services they received. Surprisingly, the lower rate of satisfaction includes telehealth behavioral services as well. Gen Z reported a satisfaction rate of 3.8 out of 5, compared to 4.1 reported by older generations. Gen Z also reported a lower satisfaction rate for digital tools at 3.5 out of 5.0, compared to 4.0 as reported by the older age groups.

When asked about the reasons for their dissatisfaction of telehealth and digitals tools, Gen Z respondents cited reasons such as lack of engagement by therapists, feeling less official or professional, and hurdles to building trust via a virtual connection. Lack of diversity and problems with the apps were given as well. Gen Z reported an emphasis on diversity, with a desire to see more ethnic minorities in seeking care, as well as in the workplace.

The authors of the survey point out that with high reported rates of emotional anxiety and distress among Gen Z, employers would be smart to recognize the differences in the generation, and strategize accordingly.