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Let’s talk about it

Posted by Flux on 

11 July 2024

What we learnt:

Within our research group, 43% are undergoing or have been to therapy, indicating an openness to seeking psychological help that differs from the attitude of older generations. In conjunction with counselling, 17% have taken antidepressants, while 20% have had suicidal thoughts.

“I’d say maybe matric was my hardest. I definitely did have suicidal thoughts but I spoke about it straight away and I went to my psychiatrist. I said that I was having suicidal thoughts but I would never act on it because my mom’s brother actually did commit suicide. So I knew what it does to your family and the people that you leave behind and it wasn’t something that I felt like I was actually going to act on. It just plays on your mind when you are in such a bad place.” – (25, White, female)

“… a lot have had some form of therapy for something. Which for me is encouraging because if you had asked the same question five years ago, you would have got a very different response because there’s a huge stigma against or around attending to mental health. And you wouldn’t even admit to it because that was almost a weakness. So hopefully the stigma in this generation, that’s one of the torches they bear, is that they’re breaking down the stigmas around mental health.” – Ronen Aires.

“It’s not just a de-stigmatization of therapy and of mental illness, but almost like the expectation that everyone should be in therapy, which is kind of ironic because if everybody’s ill, then no one is.” – Bronwyn Williams.

We also found that when they are in an idle state, for example, unemployment, there is an awareness that they need to take care of their mental health.

“Maybe 10 years ago, when I was 15 [thought of suicide]. I used to go to therapy years ago. I used to have a psychiatrist years ago and be on antidepressants. Since then, no. At the current point in time, my mind frame is good. I’m ambitious and hopeful that what will happen will happen and what’s supposed to be, will be. I’m a little bit lost at the moment I just finished my degree which was, for the most part, my purpose. I’ve been unemployed and not really doing anything. And so it requires one to pay special attention to their mental state when they’re purposeless.” – (White, male)

What does the research/experts say:

This generation is the most anxious generation. In the US, 18- to 34-year-olds said their average stress level is 6 out of 10, according to a 2023 survey by the American Psychological Association. According to a 2024 report from Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation, the most influential driver of Gen Z’s happiness is their sense of purpose at work and school. 47% of Gen Zers often feel anxious. Between 43% and 49% of them do not ‘feel’ what they do each day is interesting, important or motivating. In South Africa, 9% of all teen deaths are caused by suicide. The fastest-growing age for suicide is young people under 35, specifically female suicides, which peak between 15 to 19 years. In 2023, about 40 pupils from Gauteng schools have reportedly committed suicide.

Young people have grown up in tumultuous times that have included multiple stressors such as 9/11, school shootings, climate change, a global pandemic, exposure to harmful content on social media, increased screen time and isolation, and political unrest. Social media has played a big part in normalising therapy. Asking for help with mental health is viewed as a strength rather than a weakness among Gen Z, the same as going to the doctor for a broken bone would be seen as a wise thing to do. More than one in four (27%) Generation Z adults—including nearly one-third (31%) of Gen Z women—report they spent at least some of their teen years talking to a therapist, according to a survey from the American Enterprise Institute.

However, the idea that therapy may be harmful or unnecessary has begun to spread.  Investigative journalist Abigail Shrier, in her book “Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up” asserts that mental health care can be lifesaving when appropriately applied to children with severe needs, but for the typical child, the cure can be worse than the disease. Talk therapy, for example, can induce rumination, trapping children in cycles of anxiety and depression. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia says “Therapy is needed for some of our teens. But the research also tells us that many young adults would be protected from anxiety and depression by spending more time outdoors, exercising, socialising, and doing activities with their families rather than spending time on a screen.” 

What can businesses and policymakers do about this?

The type of consumer this represents is prone to anxiety and depression but is open to seeking external help to reduce this anxiety/ depression. Being an always-on generation represents a business opportunity to develop platforms and spaces where young people can seek professional therapy or form communities, much like the traditional in-person support groups. A recommendation for a loud and busy world is marketing that appeals to their need for calm and inner peace. 

Employers can play a role in improving employee well-being and easing the anxiety that this generation experiences. Offering in-house counselling services or subsidies for employees to access external counselling would be beneficial. Flexibility and an acknowledgement of work-life balance will also help retain young workers. Promoting exercise and a healthy lifestyle with time spent outdoors will lead to thriving employees. 

Policymakers would be well-served if young people are well and contributing positively to the economy. Addressing unemployment, which is a source of anxiety for many young South Africans, is vital. Access to well-maintained, safe and inexpensive outdoor spaces will encourage young people to spend time outdoors, which benefits their mental health. Offering counselling subsidies for those who can’t afford therapy is essential. It is pertinent to facilitate the creation of support groups for the various mental health challenges that the youth face.  

By Flux Trends 

The data and quotes mentioned above refer to a project that we are in the midst of, in conjunction with Student Village called “The 30/30/30 Project” whereby we collected insights from 30 South Africans, under the age of 30, 30 years into our new democracy.

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

Use these and many more insights from the 30/30/30 Project Report to BUILD your team, by booking a Bridgebuilder™  Workshop. 

Close the generation gap and dive into the future of work and how to manage it.

Contact Bethea Clayton at connected@fluxtrends.co.za  or +27764539405, if you are interested in exploring any of these options with your team or clients.

Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez

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