Here’s the grim news from a new report conducted by Barnes & Noble College Insights: Generation Z is suffering from a crushing amount of stress in the college years, more than any other generation before it (hey, no snorting or scoffing over there, Boomers and Gen X). What’s going on, and more importantly, how can we parents help mitigate the mental health challenges Gen Z is facing during their university years?
Let’s go back to the report, titled “Mental Health & Well-Being on Campus: How We Better Care for the Whole Student,” released by a branch of Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. The report surveyed current college students as well as their parents to get a broad sense of the state of mental health among college and university students today.
The report’s findings were sobering indeed, showing that today’s college students feel pushed and pulled by numerous factors in their lives, including (but not limited to) academic expectations they’ve set for themselves, academic expectations they feel have been set for them by others, the volatile current political climate, money worries, and social anxieties.
Three experts are cited in the report: Daniel Eisenberg, Ph.D., Healthy Minds Network, University of Michigan; Victor Schwartz, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of The Jed Foundation; Ron Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Kognito.
There were four major takeaways from the study that we think parents of college-bound Gen Z youth should definitely know.
- Gen Z is at serious risk for mental health issues at university. How much of a risk? Well, according to this report, a whopping three-fourths (76% of those surveyed) reported experiencing serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression that interfered with their daily functioning. Those who reported mental health decline split three ways, with 89% reporting high stress, 86% reporting anxiety, and 66% reporting depression.
Those are some serious stats. And while the study also showed that these mental health obstacles didn’t necessarily correlate with academic failure, “additional research from the Healthy Minds Study shows that when students have high levels of mental health problems… they are about twice as likely to depart the institution before graduation,” according to Eisenberg. That’s pretty scary.
- Our kids’ stress may weigh heavier on them than we think. Balancing their lives and achieving good grades were at the top of the list of stressors for Gen Z college students. And while some parents seemed clueless, 79% of parents involved in the study rated these concerns as a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5. The good news? Students feel great when they’re following their passion by pursuing a major they care about. So back off about that practical business degree, parents. Mental health comes first.
- Campus mental health resources are not utilized to the degree parents might hope. Though students seem to know about their schools’ counseling resources (85%), only 24% have been brave enough to make use of the counseling offered at their schools. It is possible that some youth are getting help from other places, Schwartz points out, but still… as parents, maybe we can encourage our Gen Z kids to use the services available to them on campus.
- The best news of all: Our actions as parents matter to our college kids, the study shows. The BNED report revealed that in addition to financial support and emotional support, many parents offer no-judgment, stigma-free conversations to their kids about how to handle anxiety and stress and depression. And those conversations are empowering our kids. “Conversations [like these] play a critical role in building coping skills, social connectedness, and motivating those in need to seek help. While these conversations can be difficult, they are necessary.”
Goldman feels the conversations need to be between students and their parents as well as between students and their school staff. “It is … critical that mental health initiatives at universities and colleges go beyond building awareness of the impact of psychological distress and begin to train and empower their faculty, staff and students with the confidence and communication skills to seek help and effectively approach those in need to provide support and motivation to connect with available help.”
Indeed, just search Twitter for “college stress” and you’ll find a thousand memes like this:
When you were super excited to go to college but the stress of leaving, making all new friends, and classes all hits you at once. pic.twitter.com/YbnkYe7xeY
— Sophie (@SophiaSchuler33) August 10, 2019
In short? Take your Gen Z youth seriously; their college complaints are no joke. It’s a difficult world out there, and they need you more than ever. And if you’re looking for some actually-useful college advice to give your teen on their journey, we’ve got you covered.