The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


Mental health struggles worsen in Gen-Z

Dan Meyers on

Generation Z (Gen-Z) are known as the digital natives. As predecessors to Generation Alpha and successors to the Millennials, we are the first generation to grow with the internet as part of our daily lives. Born between 1997 and 2012, we are known for being tech-savvy, open-minded, competitive, and independent. Another beautiful thing about Gen Z? We walk around like we’re the happiest people while holding the most awful thoughts within us. As indigenes of a developed age, Gen Z is also the least likely of all generations to report overall positive mental health. 18% of Gen Z report having an anxiety disorder and 23% report being diagnosed with depression – all higher rates than other generations (Howarth, 2023). There are about 68.6 million Gen Z in the USA today – approximately 11,689 of us attend USM, so we’re not left out. Numbers don’t lie. Gen Z? We’re messed up. This isn’t talked about enough.

How does the most developed generation have the highest probability of knocking on a therapist’s door? How are we more connected than ever and yet still lonelier (73%) than ever? Isn’t easy supposed to correspond to easy? Isn’t an easy life supposed to correspond to an easy life? Unfortunately, I guess not. It appears that ease of life is a huge precursor for our high rates of depression. Adversity is a strong precursor for prosperity. Does it mean every adversity leads to prosperity? Of course, not. The point is we’ve been dealt quite the easy spoon, and we are facing the reality of “fast money brings slow problems.” Despite the advancement of technology and the ease of life, “about 61% of us report feeling nervous, on edge, or anxious.” As a testament to such statistics, a student tragically died on campus during my very first semester in fall 2023.

“Mental health appears to be a washed out term on campus,” said an anonymous Southern Miss student. “It’s been thrown around too loosely around here.” Sounds a bit harsh? Madison Hankins, an English Creative Writing graduate student put it better when she said, “The deal is not washed, but the term can be.”

Mental health has become synonymous with feeling good about everything. People want to live a smooth easy life, not a fulfilling life. Paradoxically, the former breeds more frustration, while the other breeds some happiness. Neuroscience proves this: dopamine, the feel-good hormone, comes from doing challenging things. As uncomfortable as that sounds, none of us will have good mental health if we take the easy path. This is not a science debrief but a reality check. The paradox of the game of life is that winners are comfortable with being uncomfortable. Gen Z is the loneliest generation in history (73% according to Forbes) because we will pick comfortable and superficial scrolling on social media over going out and having meaningful conversations in real life. The latter is harder, but brings long-term fulfillment, while the former brings depression in the long-term.

Student Sarah narrated her experiences with Mental Health issues as an undergraduate. “I tried to cope with everything,” she said. “It was hard because everyone around me was experiencing the same thing or even in worse situations.”

Indeed, the deal is real, but one of the best ways to deal with this issue is to find a community. How can we find a community? Start small. Make the move and make it easy. Talk to your neighbor in class. As simple as that sounds, it is very difficult for a lot of people. The more difficult it is, the more reason we should do it.

Bella McGill, a Ph.D. English student, is an ideal case study. “Dealing with depression as an undergraduate, my therapist advised me not to pull out a book during class but to talk to my neighbor,” she said.

As a Ph.D. English student here at USM, McGill is grateful she made that uncomfortable decision and is part of a great community and has never felt better.

Talking to a neighbor sounds like climbing a mountain? Start with yourself. Start with self-care. Start by changing your habits. The real definition of learning is a change of behavior to a certain situation. Start with accountability; start with self-introspection; and start life-changing habits. The harsh truth is you’re the reason you’re lonely. Start by hitting the gym, journalling, volunteering, reading great books, or meditating. The point of these is that they force you to get out of your comfort and “do.” When doing more, your feelings get better, and your confidence soars higher. According to neuroscientific studies, these are real sources of dopamine because they may not be the most fun thing at the moment, but the best thing for life. Take baby steps and see great outcomes. If you focus on getting 1% better every day, you’ll be 37.78% better by the end of the year.

“I’m not an extrovert.” That’s not an excuse. Introverts and extroverts have their fair experiences with mental health issues. USM student Hailey Stringer explains that as an introvert, she is never lonely or ever depressed. Alone time can be great for the mind and soul. They are great times for practicing the aforementioned life-changing habits. Like Stringer, there should be a balance.

“I have a group of friends I hang out with,” Stringer said. “But I also like my alone time.” Stringer has become skilled at balancing time with her friends and with herself. Balance is key to life.

The environment is an extremely huge factor in great mental health. Kurt Lewin’s definition of behavior states, “Behaviors are the functions of people in their environment.” If your environment causes you to feel depressed, anxious, or lonely, then you must modify it justly or leave totally. Your friends could be your environment as well. Leave them if they are of no use to you. As tough as that sounds, there’s nothing more liberating than this.

This is not to make you feel good. This is a wake-up call. Your habits define you. Your environment shapes your behaviors as well. Switch up and start small. Mental health isn’t about feeling good. It’s about taking responsibility and doing more than thinking. Start with you. An oasis of power lies within your humanity. There is no hack. The best hack is realizing there are no hacks. Do, learn, modify, adapt, repeat. We are all in this together.

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