Gen Z and Mental Health: What Colleges Should Know

Posted on May 19, 2023

We’ve been engaging in a lot of meaningful conversations with colleges and universities recently about the critical topic of mental health and Gen Z. (This year, that’s anyone between 11 and 26 years old.)

Institutions everywhere are carefully considering whether they’re effectively and appropriately marketing their commitment to mental health and wellness, while some are questioning whether they even have enough (or the right) resources to address this vital issue.

The bottom line is: If you work at a college or university, you have to acknowledge that mental health is a fundamental concern for Gen Z and their parents, and so it should be for your institution as well.

Need some ideas, inspiration, and stats to bring to leadership? Read on.

Gen Zers are anxious and here’s why.

According to a recent survey by Harmony Healthcare IT, a data management firm that works with health data:

  • 42% of Gen Zers have a diagnosed mental health condition (with anxiety and depression at the top of the list)
  • 57% are currently taking medication for a mental health condition (and pays $44 on average a month for said medication)
  • 39% go once a week or more to therapy (and pays $149 on average for it)
  • 87% of Gen Zers feel comfortable talking about mental health with others

What’s causing all this? The same survey reveals:

  • Almost 3 in 4 Gen Zers say the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health
  • 85% of Gen Z do not feel their generation has been set up for success
  • 66% do not feel financially stable
  • Some of their concerns regarding the future: personal finances, the economy, the environment, politics, the workforce, and violence

Of course, that’s just one survey. But Google “Gen Z and mental health” and you’ll find a wealth of data that reinforces the undeniable truth that this age groups needs all the support they can get — and knowing ahead of time what they can expect, should they choose your school, can make all the difference.

That goes for parents also. In CCA’s own research study of 1,500+ parents, safety was the number one factor they consider in the college search. Physical safety, emotional safety, it all matters.

Don’t forget current students too.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, mental health problems can affect a student’s energy level, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and optimism, hindering performance. They also cite research that shows that depression is associated with lower grade point averages. Peers, family members, faculty, and staff could be affected out of concern, and campuses too can feel the burden when students with mental health problems do poorly or drop out.

And we all know what poor student retention can do for a campus: low morale, low enrollment, a negative reputation, and the list goes on.

So, should you talk about mental health? 

As a higher education marketing agency, we know first-hand that some schools are worried about what it may look like to address mental health head-on. Some have even been hesitant to use “gen Z and mental health” in the same sentence. In CCA’s research study one parent commented that a tour guide spoke a little too much about safety, which left him wondering… Is safety a real problem here?

So yes, you need to find a happy medium. But think about this: You work at a college or university that presumably empowers its students to explore and tackle these national issues. You want your students to enjoy their experience, pursue their passions, and be healthy and happy along the way. And you’re probably telling prospective parents in one way or another to “trust us” with their most precious asset.

In other words, if you’re going to market your student-centered approach, the personal attention every student receives, or your status as a modern institution that prepares students for a lifetime of success, it’s a mistake to not include anything about wellness resources on your website, during your tours, and so on.

And it’s an even bigger mistake to not even invest in those resources in the first place.

See how other colleges and universities address mental health.

A few examples of what some schools are doing:

Gen Z and mental health quote for colleges

The University of Richmond built a Well-Being Center, described as a comprehensive and integrated facility that include all campus health care in one location. The school’s site says: “The Center impacts retention and graduation rates of our students by providing affordable and convenient health and wellness services and programs delivered by professionals attuned to the unique stressors and needs of college students.” You can read more about UR’s Well-Being Center here.

The University of South Florida recognizes how major the transition from high school to college is for everyone. Within their Counseling Center section online, they offer a ton of resources and advice for first-year students. And their Center for Student Well-Being is all about interesting events, like Mocktail Mix-Off, Paws and Relax, Wellness Wednesday, and the Summer Splash Bash.

UC Davis has a wide range of student health and counseling services, and of course, individual counseling is available to all registered UC Davis students. But in particular, we like that they also promote counseling for specific student populations based on academics—including med students, vet students, and law students.

Drexel University‘s Counseling Center offers anonymous online mental health screenings—free for students, faculty/professional staff, and members of the general public. Answer a few questions, and you’re led to insights and resources that are relevant for your responses, including Drexel/Philly resources, national resources, phone lines, and more.

Gen Z, mental health, and your college. A few ideas for you:

Even on tight budgets, there are ways you can prioritize the mental health of your community—and get the word out to your prospective audience and their influencers (we are marketers, after all).

  • Offer free mental health screenings.
  • Require all first-years to take a course in mental health and wellness. (Ever hear of Yale’s wildly popular “happiness” course?)
  • Create stress-free stations or peaceful nooks across campus—spots designed to give students a mental break. Think bean bags, hammocks, aromatherapy, soothing music, anything that gives them space.
  • Work with virtual mental health services. (Kognito is a big one.)
  • Give students a paid subscription to mental health apps.
  • Promote a campus-wide challenge to stomp out the stigma of mental health. Ask participants to get creative in how they would normalize mental health among college students.
  • Bring speakers to your campus, including alumni who have relevant careers or stories and could speak to the importance of practicing self-care and what to do when you or a friend is feeling depressed.
  • Give campus visitors the option to tour your wellness or counseling facilities.
  • Hold your team accountable and make this a part of your strategic plan!

Imagine a future with less stressed college students? What a world that would be.

In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to hear what you’re doing in the mental health space or brainstorm ways we could help.

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