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The Top Things Impacting Young People’s Mental Health—and Their Top Coping Mechanisms

At the end of a chaotic and challenging year, we asked Gen Z and Millennials to tell us the things that have affected their mental health most and the top ways they’ve been taking care of their mental health…

There is no question that 2020 challenged the mental health of Gen Z and Millennials. These were already the most anxious, stressed, and burnt out generations before COVID, and the year’s events intensified these feelings, sparking a need for even more focus on mental health. At the end of the year, State of Mind trend research checked in on the mental health of young people in the wake of a historically stressful time. We explored the current outlooks of young people, the mental wellness trends that have accelerated during this time, and the vital things brands need to know about young consumers’ morale and mindsets.

In our research, we asked young people “What are the top things that have most affected your mental health this past year?” as well as “In what ways have you been taking care of your mental health during the Coronavirus crisis?” Their top responses to these questions continue to be significant as 2021 begins. The majority of both generations report that they are continuing to quarantine, and that they believe the COVID crisis will continue for another six months or more. 2021 will be another year of their lives controlled by the pandemic, and the mental health impacts of COVID will continue for them—as well their methods of self-care.

When we look at the top things that they say impacted their mental health in 2020, we see that the majority have been affected in some way:

YPulse reported early on that loved ones getting sick was young people’s top fear about COVID-19, above getting it themselves, the economy crashing, or being stuck at home. Here, we see that their early fears around the virus continued to affect their mental health as the year went on, and worry about loved ones getting COVID was one of the biggest things impacted young consumers’ mental well-being this year overall.

But the top things that affected their mental health vary by generation. Gen Z was far more likely to be impacted by the quarantines, and not being able to see friends and family in-person was the thing they were most likely to tell us affected their mental health this year, followed by quarantining at home for a long time. They’re also more likely than Millennials to say that not being able to visit public places has affected them. Isolation at a young age has had a serious impact on this generation, many of whom have felt cut off from their friends at a time when friend circles can feel more important than family. In fact, 53% of Gen Z tell us that because of COVID-19 they have felt more lonely than they did before, compared to 35% of Millennials.

Meanwhile, the top issue affecting Millennials’ mental health is financial issues stemming from COVID, and they are far more likely than Gen Z to say that worry over the economy has impacted them as well. While Gen Z is still financially supported by their families, Millennials are for the most part financially independent, and many have been struggling in the wake of COVID. Our survey on finances found that 54% of 18-24-year-olds and 48% of 25-39-year-olds reported that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their personal finances. We also found that 38% of Millennials say that because of COVID they were more stressed when thinking about money.

Of course, the items on this list are not the only things that affected young people’s mental health in 2020, and in fact we asked some additional things of students, those working from home, and Millennial parents. We found that 42% of students reported that having to attend school from home has affected their mental health, making it one of the top negative impacts for Gen Z. Having to work from home has not been as much of a mental health challenge for Millennials, with only 25% of those working remotely saying it has affected them. Millennial parents have faced a slew of new challenges due to the pandemic, and 23% report that having to balance taking care of kids at home and work has affected their mental health. But a bigger concern is their own children’s mental health: 27% say that concern over their kid’s mental well-being has affected their own.

So, with plenty of factors challenging their mental wellness, young people have been turning to a slew of solutions for escape. We asked what the top ways they’ve been taking care of their mental health are:

Listening to music and watching TV and Movies on streaming services are the top ways that young people report taking care of their mental health, highlighting the importance of media to these generations. Young consumers have been using content to cure their moods for some time, and 2020 cemented this behavior as a self-care practice. Gen Z and Millennials are even more likely to say that they are using TV shows and videos as medicine to treat their different moods during this time, with 74% now reporting they do so compared to 65% in 2019.

Gen Z is even more likely than Millennials to turn to media and entertainment as a mental wellness crutch, and are also more likely to say that they have been playing video games to take care of their mental health as well. It should come as no surprise that going on social media is to this generation a mental health boost, considering their loneliness spike during this time. Both gaming and social platforms have been vital in keeping them connected. But they have also been resources, with many social media apps and sites sharing ways to cope with the crisis and mental wellness tips flourishing in social content.