Mental health issues have become a hot topic of conversation for Gen Z, particularly among college students. And rightfully so, as some of the most predominant mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression disproportionately affect Generation Z compared to previous generations. Only about 45% of Gen Zers describe their mental health as being good or excellent, down 11% from millennials. This disparity only increases when compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers. As members of Gen Z, we all know someone struggling to combat mental health stressors, or are struggling with them ourselves. But why now, and why among our generation in particular?
Unsurprisingly, declining mental health and chronic stressors can be linked to various factors outside of an individual’s control. These issues include: environmental issues, gun violence, harassment and abuse, economic instability, politics and especially social media. They are then compounded by the constant stream of information the internet affords us. Though technology was designed to make society more connected and informed, it created the opposite effect, allowing confirmation biases to flourish among the misinformed and legitimate information to overwhelm those interested in finding it. And although the ability to compartmentalize day-to-day news cycles is imperative, it can sometimes feel impossible.
To combat the doom and gloom of 2021, many sought external treatment, primarily through therapy. Interestingly, even though Gen Z is the generation most likely to experience chronic depression and anxiety thus far, we are subsequently the most likely to seek treatment. Roughly 37% reported receiving help from a mental health professional — up from all previous generations. And this is great news! It’s wonderful to see the stigma surrounding mental health begin to deteriorate.
However, as relative newcomers to seeking treatment for mental health concerns, many Gen Zers find difficulty knowing where to begin, especially in college. You’re not only dealing with the dreaded pressure of life after college, but also your own personal concoction of stressors. These include classes, internships, extracurriculars and necessary social interactions. It’s overwhelming and all the more reason why seeking therapy is commonplace among college students. So, as someone who’s been through the metaphorical revolving door of finding an adequate therapist, here are the most crucial things I’ve learned:
1. Understand You’ve Already Made the Most Courageous First Step in Deciding To Seek Treatment
Admitting you need help takes a tremendous amount of strength, and it’s perhaps the greatest way you can help yourself. Even though dealing with stressors internally may seem more resolute, the “picking yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is an outdated excuse for Baby Boomers to invalidate our generation’s mental health concerns. It’s a way of feigning positivity and good health for a perceived social acceptance that truly does not exist. Social media may make everyone seem happy and well-adjusted, but I’m a firm believer that we’re all just walking around having silent panic attacks (even if it’s Twitter who told me so). Again, we’re living through an unprecedented level of societal concern and information overload. We’re all wading through an impossible moat of uncertainty, so finding a therapist who’s trained to deal with the big “what ifs” that inevitably arise can be beneficial.
Lol we’re all just walking by each other having quiet panic attacks
— julia shiplett (@juliashiplett) August 15, 2021
2. Now That You Want To Find a Therapist, Determine How You Feel and What Your Symptoms Are
Understandably, many seek therapy because all of the thoughts, feelings and emotions coursing through their system become overwhelming. And that’s okay! That’s exactly what therapists are trained to diagnose. However, they cannot determine an appropriate course of treatment if they don’t know what they’re treating. If the therapist is worth their salt, they’ll probably ask you point-blank, “What is the reason for you seeking treatment?” So it’s helpful to prepare an answer.
To do this, try keeping a log or writing down negative or intense thoughts and feelings as they arise. Because when you’re in the proverbial chair with the bib around your neck, the pressure may cause you to struggle to find the words to describe how you’re feeling. But please understand this phenomenon is common. Even though a good therapist can help you wade through some of the haze and confusion, it may be advantageous to come into your first session with as many tools as possible to help them.
3. After You Get a General Understanding of What You’d Like Help With, Research the Qualifications Necessary To Do So
To put it simply, find the mental health professional whose letters match what you want them to do. For example, when you start searching for therapists, you’re going to find a bunch of names with long and confusing initials next to them. There will be MD, LMHC, LCSW and Ph.D., among others. The denotations indicate what they’re licensed to do, and many counselors tend to overlap since most mental health concerns intertwine and are linked to various stressors.
So, to somewhat narrow it down, start by Googling something like “What kind of therapist is best for treating anxiety?” and research the licenses or qualifications that are the best fit. Usually, for an initial therapy session, many prefer a counselor or therapist as opposed to an MD. Professionals with an MD usually focus predominantly on prescribing medication and not talk therapy; however, talking to any licensed mental health practitioner can lead you in the right direction.
4. Finally, Start Making Some Phone Calls!
If you have insurance, the easiest way to search for covered therapists is through your provider’s website. You can narrow down your search by a therapist’s license, gender, sexual orientation, typical age group of clients and what they specialize in treating. Though the search can take some culling through, you’ll usually end up with a fairly hefty list of therapists.
Unfortunately, the most effective way to determine a therapist’s availability or schedule an appointment is to perform the anxiety-inducing task of phoning their office. And even though a lot of therapists say they’re taking new clients online, many actually are not and just haven’t updated their availability information. This means you may need to make quite a few phone calls to find one or two therapists accepting new clients. And if your list becomes overwhelming (and you dread making phone calls like me), ask a trusted friend or family member to place the calls on your behalf. This may ease the burden and make your search a little easier.
However, because effective therapy usually requires more than one treatment, the cost can be an understandable deterrent. If you lack insurance or can’t pay for therapy out-of-pocket, other options are available. That includes looking for therapists who have a sliding scale (the ability to charge clients in proportion to what they can afford). Low-cost therapy collectives, therapy apps, local support groups and crisis or suicide prevention hotlines also exist to encourage reaching out should a situation become dire.
5. A Gentle Reminder: It May Not Be a Perfect Fit (Initially or Ever) — And That’s Okay!
I wish someone told me that you may not find a perfect therapist on your first consultation. Not only may it take a few sessions to truly feel comfortable around your new therapist, but they may not end up being a good fit at all. And that’s okay! Searching for, contacting and scheduling an appointment with a therapist can be quite challenging. So, discovering after a few sessions that it’s not a good fit can feel hopeless and debilitating. But don’t let this discourage you from seeking treatment! It’s about finding the right fit to help you on your journey. Remember, therapists work for you! You’re allowed to vet and be picky to receive the treatment you need. Even if it takes a few tries, finding a therapist you truly click with can be worthwhile.
At the end of the day, reaching out for help in times of hardship can be wholly effective, regardless of where it comes from. Admitting you’re not okay and then seeking treatment is courageous. Its increased popularity may hopefully represent a larger attitude shift among Gen Z — college students in particular. We’re all beginning to understand the importance of mental health, and I hope this feeling persists. With that said, if someone in your life recently began this intimidating journey, please show them love and respect. You have no idea how long it may have taken for them to get there. If it’s you seeking help independently, remember: You’re valid, and you matter. And if no one’s told you lately, I’m proud of you.