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The mental state of Gen Z: Four ways brands can address a growing crisis

The mental state of Gen Z: Four ways brands can address a growing crisis

By Anna Essmann
Strategic Planner

From leading global conversations on climate change to topping the YouTube charts with creative content for millions, Gen Z is having a big year, with no signs of their cultural momentum slowing down soon. They’re coming into their own as adults, with 4.5 million of them casting their vote in 2018 midterm elections, and they’re projected to outvote the Silent Generation this year in their first presidential election. They’re also making a huge economic impact as consumers: $143 billion in spend currently (a number that will surely grow as they continue to graduate from college and age into their independence.)

Gen Z is also more precautious, grounded in reality, and eager to plan ahead than the ambitiously optimistic generation that comes before them. And they have to be: with insane demands of always-on social lives, rigorous schoolwork, and jam-packed extra-curricular schedules, the pressures to keep up and compete with all of the above are heavy. It’s no wonder they’re hyper-focused on compartmentalizing and finding ways to create meaningful balance in their lives—a wellness pursuit shaped and prioritized by influencers from within their social spheres.

And while they aren’t actively engaged in their own health and wellness yet—they’re still young and fairly healthy, with a few years until they’re booted from mom and dad’s insurance—it’s clear they do care about one key component of health far more than past generations at their age: mental and emotional health. They recognize our country, and specifically our young adults, face a behavioral health crisis. And even more importantly, they feel it’s up to them to be influential contributors to the national conversation around de-stigmatizing behavioral health issues and finding healthy ways to work through them.

Consider a few key facts: 

So where are the behavioral health issues stemming from? 

There are the key players you’d expect: school, perception of self, parents, friends/social pressures. And financial pressure, which Gen Z feels more acutely affected by than previous generations at their age. Some people question how it is, if teens’ sources of stress are the evergreen pressures that teens throughout time have endured, that teens today are more stressed and incur higher rates of behavioral health issues? 

Is there something different about this generation that hasn’t been true of young adults in previous generations? 

First, as digital and social media natives they’ve become accustomed to sacrificing crucial in-person interactions for online ones. And more social media use leads to unhappiness, lower overall well-being, feelings of depression, and increased risk factors for suicide. 

Second, culture has changed, giving access to any topic (even the dark and dangerous) in seconds. Content like “13 Reasons Why” is de-stigmatizing self-destructive behavior. Our 24/7 news cycle inundates teens with every detail on the latest epidemics and tragedies. Each influence, each real-time exposure to negative realities chips away at what was once a blissfully ignorant season of life. Today’s teenagers are trained to spot and respond to worst case scenarios at a moment’s notice—a pressure that weighs on their mental/emotional state. 

As a result, teens are taking stress, depression, anxiety, and mental/emotional health more seriously. About 70% of teens believe anxiety and depression are a major problem among people their age in their community (Mintel Marketing to Gen Z Report May 2019.) They are talking with their families about mental health more openly, in public and in private. Nearly 55% of parents say they try to have serious conversations with their teens every day. And even more influential sources, like Selena Gomez, the most followed person on Instagram, are making it seem easier to open up. In fact, more than nine million people liked a video she posted a year ago detailing her struggles with anxiety and depression. 

The support community for teens is also improving access to convenient and professional behavioral health services for Gen Z. Half of the college population and almost one-third of teens ages 12 to 17 received mental health services in a specialty mental health setting, an educational setting, or a medical setting, according to a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Health care brands and employers can and should step up with Gen Z to invest in and improve meaningful access to behavioral health solutions. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Help to reduce barriers to accessible behavioral health resources. Wellness, mental, and emotional health are a perceived luxury requiring significant financial investment, time and mental energy. People need affordable access to convenient and/or professional support, and companies like Walmart delivering: they’ve piloted a new concept called Walmart Health where behavioral health professionals are just as accessible as primary care, dentistry, vision, or hearing services. 
  2. Short-term, employers and employees can reinforce a safe environment in the workplace like the Google Blue Dot employee ally/support program, and be a cheerleader for Employee Assistance Programs
  3. Share and/or sponsor a affordable apps and behavioral health resources like Youper, Talkspace, Woebot, Tess or Wysa or behavioral health programs. Awareness and education of available resources can save lives! 
  4. Finally, consider offering healthcare coverage that has strong behavioral health coverage and/or integrated primary care. Ask about area providers with a reputation for an integrated care approach, local accountable care organizations, or providers reimbursed through a values-based care model. Review options available from your insurance carrier’s managed behavioral health partner to select coverage. 

Barkley US

Jan 10, 2020

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Brand Battles, Healthcare, Marketing, Modern Consumer, Research, Whole Brand
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