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Enjoy the stress of high school. Studies show it only gets worse later

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but research by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that twice as many Gen-Z young adults (36%) felt anxiety than teenagers (18%). I’ll dive deeper into the numbers later, but the important thing to know is there are many simple things you can do right now to improve your well-being, both in the present and future.


The full 34-page Understanding and Preventing Young Adults’ Mental Health Challenges PDF is here. Alternatively, I’ll provide a detailed TL;DR of the report below. Frankly, the report has many redundancies, making it an unnecessarily long read.

What the numbers say: top drivers of young adults’ mental health challenges

  • Nearly 3 in 5 young adults (58%) reported lacking “meaning or purpose” in their lives in the previous month. Half of young adults reported that their mental health was negatively influenced by “not knowing what to do with my life.”
  • Financial worries and achievement pressure: More than half of young adults reported that financial worries (56%) and achievement pressure (51%) negatively impacted their mental health.
  • A perception that the world is unraveling: Forty-five percent (45%) of young adults reported that a general “sense that things are falling apart” was impairing their mental health.
  • Relationship deficits: Forty-four percent (44%) of young adults reported a sense of not mattering to others and 34% reported loneliness.
  • Social and political issues: Forty-two percent (42%) reported the negative influence on their mental health of gun violence in schools, 34% cited climate change, and 30% cited worries that our political leaders are incompetent or corrupt.

It’s not all bad news. Gen-Z is more articulate and emotionally aware than any previous generation. Previous generations didn’t have access to the wealth of knowledge regarding mental health that Gen-Z has today. Nor the stigmatism associated with accepting mental health treatment.

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Our data indicate that when it comes to meeting our pressing societal challenges, young people lack faith in older generations but have a good deal of faith in each other.

Harvard Graduate School of Education

It is one thing to experience intense pressure to attend a selective college or obtain a prestigious internship; it is quite another to experience high levels of stress about meeting basic needs.

On Edge.

But wait, there are more data.

  • Women were significantly more likely to report both financial and achievement pressure than men.
  • 40% of respondents reported becoming closer to one of their parents during the pandemic and research indicates that this closeness can nurture and sustain young people as they transition into adulthood.
  • Across all demographics, young women are more likely to endure anxiety (41%) and depression (35%) than men (31% anxiety, 24% depression).
  • Gay male (45%), bisexual (59%), and questioning (61%) young adults are far more likely than heterosexual (38%) young adults to report anxiety or depression.
  • Lesbian respondents were the least likely among these groups to report anxiety or depression (28%).
  • Low-income young adults were more likely to be anxious or depressed than higher-income young adults.
  • Conservative teens were significantly less likely to report anxiety or depression than *liberal teens.
  • Conservative and liberal young adults suffer anxiety or depression at roughly the same rates.

* Would you prefer to be less anxious and depressed at the expense of being oblivious to the reality of the world today?

Gen-Z’s anxiety and depression across key demographics.

mapt_gen-z anxiety and depression by key domographics

Gen-Z’s top perceived drives of their negative mental health.

mapt_gen-z top perceived drivers of their negative mental health


There are numerous options for each individual that can help reduce common stresses.

  • Engage in caring for others and in high-quality service of various kinds, which can both alleviate loneliness and provide meaning and purpose.
  • Seek out older adults who are willing to try and understand the realities of young people’s lives and can share insights and wisdom.
  • (While not arguing for or against religion.) Important structures, traditions, and practices in many religious communities create meaning and purpose, enabling young people to feel part of a larger human experience that transcends their achievements and mitigates loneliness.

“No one I know throws their heart and soul into work anymore. Work
is just a means to an end.”

23-year-old respondent

The Making Caring Common Project developed a framework to support young people in finding purpose and energizing possibilities that asks them to consider:

  • their “ideal story,” the story of the life they aspire to lead;
  • their “aught story,” the story about the life their parents and /or community expects them to lead;
  • their “almost story,” the story of roads not taken that still pull on their imagination;
  • their “shame story,” the story of the life they fear they will lead;
  • their “existential story,” the story they may have about the essential meaning of life;
  • and their “pragmatic story,” the story of the constraints and realities they are facing, such as financial constraints or family obligations.

Young adults then explore how they might manage each of these stories in ways that enable them to move toward their ideal story. Parents and other older adults might also think about how they navigate their own stories and weave these ideas into conversations with young adults about their stories.


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