Mental health is far more than the absence of clinical conditions such as depression or anxiety. The World Health Organization defines mental health as ‘A state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.’
Mental health and wellbeing has had a growing profile among communities in schools, universities and workplaces, because it’s an element of every individual’s life that needs management, care and help. Mental health and wellbeing challenges don’t discriminate based on social status, gender, religion or financial status.
The prevalence of mental health concerns among the next generation
Currently, around one in four young people aged fifteen to nineteen meet the criteria for having a serious mental illness. It is concerning that there has been a significant increase in the proportion of young people meeting this criteria; data shows that it increased by more than 20 per cent in the most recent five-year period.1
Parents are recognising the importance of mental wellbeing in the next generation. As one parent told us in a focus group, ‘I feel like self-care and mental health, those kinds of things, are going to be super-important for our kids. I think I would put that right up there next to critical thinking and compassion.’
COVID-19’s impact on mental health
One of the biggest impacts of COVID-19 was on people’s health – not just their physical health but their mental health, wellbeing and resilience. When asked about the biggest impacts of social isolation, Generation Z were most likely to say that boredom (51%), less physical activity (47%) and increased feelings of loneliness (41%) were affecting them the most, and significantly more so than any other generation. They also indicated that they were more likely to see the negative impacts of increased screen time. Almost half (49%) of Gen Z said they felt anxious about the unfolding COVID-19 situation, with one in four (25%) having said the biggest negative impact of COVID-19 was on their mental health (more so than any other generation).
Younger generations are also more likely than their older counterparts to believe the COVID-19 experience will have a negative impact on Generation Alpha’s mental health (88% of Gen Z and 71% of Gen Y, compared to 69% of Gen X, 50% of Baby Boomers and 48% of Builders).
Even though the six living generations all experienced the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, the impacts on mental health are greater among the younger generations, who have experienced it in their formative years without a broader reference point and who have most exhibited increased anxiety.
Generation Alpha and mental health
While the increased prevalence of mental health challenges among the next generation is a significant challenge for schools, families, communities and loved ones, it is a positive step that mental health is being discussed more openly and frequently, rather than being something people hide, are ashamed of or suffer in silence with. As well as ensuring we maintain a good state of wellbeing for ourselves, it is vital to look out for our family, friends, colleagues and children who might be struggling in silence.
Parents and carers, friends, aunties and uncles to Generation Alpha can play a significant role in helping them to not only mitigate the challenges they face but to thrive. Healthy family relationships where children feel supported and loved, and in which their school and friendships are of interest to the adults in their life, can all contribute to a child’s positive mental health.
1‘Youth mental health report Youth Survey 2012–16’, Mission Australia in association with Black Dog Institute, 2017