Generation Z Embraces Therapy
Parents often resist the counseling that their children welcome.
Generation Z is the most depressed generation, but its members are the most likely to seek treatment from a mental health professional, according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey.
Eric Wood, director of the TCU Counseling & Mental Health Center, said he has seen a shift in reasons why students seek treatment. Four years ago, anxiety became the most likely culprit, followed by depression.
Katharine Hennessey Ottone ’12 MEd is a licensed professional counselor who serves patients from children to young adults. “They shock me with their resilience,” she said.
Ottone said Gen Z people openly talk about tools they gained in therapy and what they discussed with their therapist.
Seth Kreuger, a senior philosophy major from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is part of that group, sometimes dubbed the Internet Generation. “Access to information allows so many people to learn so much about the world in a way that we’ve never been able to do before,” he said. “But when you have the ability to look at every little dark aspect of the world, or you’re constantly bombarded with a lot of negativity, it can leave a lot of people with a pessimistic view.”
Internet discourse can be taxing, Kreuger said, but maintaining awareness of the effects of those outside forces is an exercise in self-care.
Ottone incorporates mindfulness into all of her sessions.
“They love therapy,” she said. Gen Z’s viewpoint on mental health is different from that of older generations, who might have turned to counseling only to save a marriage or cope with a catastrophic event.
“Parents don’t readily acknowledge that their kids might need help,” said Katherine Ortega Courtney ’03 MS (PhD ’06), co-director of Anna, Age Eight Institute at New Mexico State University, which helps strengthen health and safety systems across the state.
She said children often ask for help first. In research for Anna, Age Eight: The Data-Driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017), she found that young people are more likely to say that they need behavioral health services than their parents are to say those children need help.
“If your kids need help, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent,” Courtney said. “You’re a good parent if you get kids help when they need it. All of us need help all the time, so it’s not a reflection on your parenting skills.”
“If your kids need help, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. You’re a good parent if you get kids help when they need it. All of us need help all the time, so it’s not a reflection on your parenting skills.”
Katherine Ortega Courtney
The sooner children are connected with peer support, mentorship programs and counseling, the better they will do later, Courtney said. Otherwise, “when they enter college, they start really struggling with things like anxiety and depression because it hasn’t been addressed or they don’t have the tools or the resources to deal with it.”
Older generations may feel shame about needing a counselor, but Courtney said Gen Z people are open about their mental health needs and about sharing their insights. “Now it’s kind of like peer pressure in the direction of getting help.”
Privilege is a variable in who receives preventive therapy, Ottone said. Parents of her clients will make appointments to help their children through rigorous class schedules or preparing for college. “It’s already a part of that get-ahead-in-life mentality.”
The family therapist has seen a range of backgrounds in her practice. She is based in Southlake, Texas, which has a median household income of $230,700, compared with $61,937 nationally, but Ottone also worked for ACH Child and Family Services, which offers counseling as well as emergency shelters and foster care help for at-risk youth.
“It’s so hard to leave one community and work with the uber wealthy because it’s a totally different set of issues,” she said. “We have a moral and ethical responsibility to be treating everyone across the board.”
Courtney said increasing access to resources is vital. “We need to acknowledge that not everyone has the resources to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Not everybody has bootstraps.”
“Sometimes people are just barely holding it together,” said Courtney, co-author of 100% Community: Ensuring 10 Vital Services for Surviving and Thriving (independently published, 2020). “And we can’t judge that because I think all of us at certain points have been barely holding it together.”
Regular therapy appointments should be part of a person’s health routine, she said. “If you go regularly, it can help prevent more severe problems. You go to the dentist twice a year to get your teeth cleaned so that you don’t have all your teeth fall out. You go to therapy regularly so that you don’t have a complete mental breakdown at some point.”
The disarray the pandemic brought amplified the need for mental health care, the author said. “If you need help now, what a great time to admit that and have everybody admit that. You can work on your past trauma or whatever it is that you need to work on, but you can use [the pandemic] as an excuse if you need to. Just get in the door.”