This past year has been a whirlwind of emotion, reflection and revelation for many, myself included. For months now, the younger generations especially have been in the midst of a reckoning. We are no longer blind to the ways of the world, and we are finally realizing the ways in which we can play a role in crafting our future. Many have been calling it a “revolution.” There has been a fire lit under the collective, and now more than ever before, we are fighting and protesting for our right to live freely in this country and celebrate ourselves unapologetically. The work is gratifying, rewarding and fulfilling.
But it is also very exhausting.
Generation Z is reported to have some of the highest rates of depression and anxiety, more than the generations who came before them. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association in October 2018, Gen Z is the least likely to report good or stable mental health and is the most likely to struggle with stress and mental-health related issues. Additionally, suicide rates between 2000 and 2017 doubled for young people as a whole (VOA News). To put it quite frankly, we are going through it right now.
Our generation is arguably the most technologically advanced. Popular social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok dominate most of our time, and they (along with news platforms) are constantly at our fingertips. A lot of good has come as a result of the presence of these apps – for example, these platforms provide a medium to share creativity, jumpstart instant entrepreneurship and build community among people who share common interests. Yet, many of us fill our time with an obscene, unhealthy amount of doomscrolling. According to Merriam-Webster, “doomscrolling” refers to “the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening or depressing” (Merriam-Webster). As touched upon in the lauded Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” this is having a detrimental effect on the overall mental health and well-being of Gen Z-ers.
In particular, the main content that is having such a detrimental effect on American teens and young adults has to do with the influx of negativity surrounding the United States government and its actions. This current presidential election cycle has proven to be very taxing and anxiety-inducing for young people. Many of us feel as though we are being forced to bear the brunt of the mistakes and transgressions of the generation before us, and many of us have heard various statements and pleas that call for the younger generation to “save” everyone and change the way that things are going. It is a huge cross to bear, and the fact that these sentiments not only come from voices on social media but also from within our families and close inner circles adds a lot of pressure as well. Many of us feel as though we reside between a rock and a hard place: we want to stay informed and we want to change the way things are going, but we also want to preserve our mental health, protect our peace and not burn out completely.
To get a direct, authentic response, I interviewed multiple college students at both Wooster and beyond to gauge how they felt about this topic.
One student from a nearby Ohio university, 18, said, “I think it’s very important to remain aware of what is going on with politics, especially now during a presidential election year. That being said, we also need to take the time to care for our mental health, whether that be taking a break from watching the news or even going on a social media cleanse.”
Another student I interviewed from a Pennsylvania liberal-arts school, 19, stated, “At first, I thought quarantine would be the perfect time to figure out what I wanted to major in and to do other things like color, learn French, exercise, etc. I was keeping up with all of those for a while and then was hit with a wave of no motivation. Even though I want to do at least one productive activity per day, it’s really hard, and I often find myself only scrolling through TikTok for HOURS. And especially when the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak, a lot of people showed their true colors, and I felt really alone. Later on, at the end of the summer, it hit me that it’ll be hard to decide on a major even with all this time on my hands because life is at a standstill, and the last of my teen years will be spent in lockdown.”
Finally, three students that I spoke with from Wooster, ranging between 19 and 20 years old, said the following:
“I am constantly caught between feeling guilt when I don’t constantly pay attention to the news and feeling overwhelmed and anxious when I look into current events.”
“I’m feeling really anxious about the election. I know it sounds dramatic, but I’m legitimately scared to leave my house this week as someone POC and LGBTQ+. Long term, I’m just scared in general about possible changes that involve my rights.”
“There is an overbearing sense of fear, anxiety, sadness and uncertainty every day. A pressure to do my best, be on task, be a good friend and family member — I feel worn out, scared, hurt. It’s hard to feel more than numb.”
We are in the midst of multiple crises. An awakening about the ways that all minority groups have been treated in this country, an international, deadly pandemic that is showing no signs of slowing, a growing concern for the health of our planet and the dangers of climate change and a growing divide between different socioeconomic brackets that makes it difficult for certain groups to have access to basic human rights and amenities, to name a few. This has taken a toll on everyone, especially those of us who have unofficially been tasked to fix it. To deal with these monumental, systemic issues on top of the personal changes and developments that automatically come from growing up is a huge burden to carry.
Many of us want to make it all work all at once, but this is simply not possible. We have been groomed to work solely to benefit a hegemonic, capitalist system with blatant disregard for our physical and emotional health, mental stability, and overall well-being. I know many people — myself included — who still have that fire under us despite everything, who still wake up each morning wanting to fight for everything and everyone. However, what we must remember is that sometimes, the most radical, revolutionary act is to wake up and fight for yourself.