Gen Z Is the Most Stressed Out Generation Right Now

Mental health across generations from The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker

online therapy session

Verywell / Bailey Mariner

The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker is a monthly survey of the overall mental health and well-being of adults living in the United States. Fielded online, this survey of 4,000 people seeks to measure current attitudes and behaviors, as well as feelings about the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below you'll find the May release of The Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker, originally published May 25, 2021. To see the most recent insights and takeaways from our survey, check out our latest releases.

For more than a year, we’ve appropriately focused our attention on the physical well-being of our most vulnerable populations, including the older generations who are more at risk for COVID. 

But, now that vaccines are widely available and the pandemic restrictions are lifting, we should shift our attention to the mental health needs of the younger generations.

Gen Z is experiencing more mental health issues than other generations right now. And their distress levels are quite concerning. It could be a pivotal time to provide young people with the support they need to move forward in a post-pandemic world.

Mental Health Across the Generations

Despite the stressors of the pandemic, 65% of Americans say their mental health has been “good” or better over the last 30 days.

The oldest members of Gen Z—aged 18 to 24—however, aren’t feeling that way. Only 42% of them say their mental health has been good or better in the past 30 days. 

Older generations seem to be doing the best right now in terms of mental health. Here’s the breakdown of Americans who rate their mental health as good or better by generation: 

  • Silent: 86%
  • Boomers: 76%
  • Gen X: 65%
  • Millennials: 59%
  • Gen Z: 42%

Almost one-third of Americans do say they’ve felt down, depressed, or hopeless over the past two weeks, But Gen Z is struggling the most. Almost half of them report symptoms of depression over the past two weeks.

Millennials weren’t far behind, with 43% of them saying they’ve experienced frequent problems with depression during the past two weeks. Meanwhile, only 30% of Gen X and just 14% of Boomers said the same.

Stress Levels Across the Generations

Younger generations may be less likely to experience good mental health right now because they’re so stressed out, more so than their parents and grandparents.

A whopping 62% of Gen Z and Millennials say they’ve been at least moderately stressed over the last 30 days. Only 53% of Generation X and 35% of Boomers said the same.

On the surface, it seems like young people would have less reason to stress than other generations. After all, they may not yet have families to support and they’ve grown up with smartphones and similar devices, so working and learning from home might seem easier for them.

But many individuals in Gen Z spent the pandemic living alone. Loneliness may play a big role in their distress.

Others may have been tasked with caretaking duties for younger siblings who were remote learning, or for elderly family members who needed assistance with errands and chores during the pandemic.

The younger generation faces an uncertain job market and an unclear financial future. And they have much less wealth than past generations had at their age. Without much of a nest egg, the lockdown and ongoing economic uncertainty took a serious financial and emotional toll on young people.

So it’s not surprising that both Gen Z and Millennials say their biggest source of stress is financial problems. Millennials say their second biggest concern is COVID, while Gen Z says work problems are the next biggest stressor.

While COVID is a big stressor for all other generations, Gen Z is the least stressed about it. Perhaps this is because they’re not as likely to have serious symptoms if they contract it.

Seeking Mental Health Treatment

Although there’s a perception that younger people are more open to getting help for mental health—after all, they’ve grown up in a world where there are more frequent conversations about mental health than in years past—Gen Z isn’t getting enough help.

Overall, 17% of Americans say they’ve seen a mental health professional in the last 30 days. Over 1 in 4 Millennials have seen a mental health professional (27%) followed by Gen X (23%) and 1 in 5 Gen Z (21%)

However, 43% of Gen Z have considered seeing a therapist in the last 30 days. Since Gen Z is also less likely to be established and more likely to be worried about money and their work, it’s possible that therapy may seem cost-prohibitive. 

But, Gen Z continues to express a concern about the stigma associated with mental health treatment.

Despite showing greater signs of distress, Millennials and Gen Z are on par with older generations for thinking therapy is not for people like them, bucking the idea that younger Americans are more open to seeking help.

Post-Pandemic Life

On the surface, it might seem like Gen Z would be quite optimistic about life returning to normal. Between remote graduations, at-home learning, time away from friends, and other missed milestones, the pandemic has taken a lot from our younger individuals.

Despite that, they’re actually more nervous about post-pandemic life than other generations.

Generally speaking, Americans are both optimistic (34%) and nervous (30%) about states loosening COVID-related restrictions. 

Gen Z is the most nervous about resuming activities. In fact, their top three feelings about post-pandemic life are nervous (35%), scared (25%) and disappointed (25%). 

Millennials and Generation X are also nervous, but they’re equally optimistic. Boomers (40%) and Silent Generation (46%) are the most optimistic about the future.

Gen Z may be nervous because of the ongoing uncertainty of the job market and the economy. Many of them are in the process of making major life decisions right now, from choosing a college major or a career path to picking which city to live in. It’s tough to make those choices during a global pandemic.

How to Support Gen Z

As we look forward to the restrictions continuing to lift, it’s important to pay attention to ensure we’re doing what we can to support one another—especially Gen Z.

Support could include having open and honest conversations about mental health, recommending someone talk to their doctor about their well-being, offering to help someone find free or low cost resources, or providing practical tasks that reduce someone’s stress.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.