Growing up in a time where dispiriting news is frequent and social media stressors are impossible to avoid, Gen Z is unsurprisingly feeling overwhelmed, even more so than previous generations. In fact, in a 2018 study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), a staggering 91 percent of Gen Zers ages 18 to 21 reported experiencing at least one physical or emotional symptom of stress in the past month, compared to just 74 percent of adults overall.
Today’s teenagers are more likely to seek professional help than their older, equally anxious counterparts. However, the mental health issues they suffer from are also much more serious — and more often lead to self-harm.
In one 2012 meta-analysis of 52 studies published in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, approximately 17 percent of adolescents studied had engaged in NSSI (nonsuicidal self-injury) at least once. Meanwhile, according to a 2015 paper published in APA’s Monitor on Psychology, there is only about a 5 percent lifetime rate of reported self-injury among adults.
Though self-harm by itself isn’t a mental health diagnosis, it is closely associated with serious (and all-too-common) mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as professional counselor Sarah Williams, founder of The ESTEEM Program, explained to In the Know.
“Self-harm is not a mental illness. However, it can be an indicator of one,” Williams said. “[There is] a high connection between self-harm and depression, anxiety and also eating disorders.”
Bullying, school stress and other external factors can all contribute to mental health issues and, by association, self-harm. Access to help is especially crucial, though studies have shown that there is a serious lack of access to mental health services both at high schools and on college campuses.
Thankfully, Gen Zers aren’t shy when it comes to talking about their mental health. In fact, on social media platforms like TikTok, many major trends — like the 15Minutes4Me trend — revolve around mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
This is a double-edged sword: While it’s advantageous for teens to have a place where they feel comfortable talking openly and honestly about their mental health, TikTok is also not a substitute for professional help.
If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm, it’s important to seek out the help of a professional who knows what they’re doing.
“There is help out there,” Williams emphasized. “Self-harm is a strong risk factor for suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people under the age of 25, so it’s very, very, very, very important to get help.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) hotline offers free, confidential consultations 24/7, 365 days a year. You can reach them by calling 1-800-662-4357.
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