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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Breaking the Silence: Understanding Why Younger Generations Embrace Therapy

Unpacking the social, cultural, and technological forces that are driving the shift towards mental health care among today’s youth.
Whether it is simply having someone you trust, or a more formally established therapist, adequate mental health support will often equate to the ability to openly talk without feeling judgment or criticism. (Photo Credit: Priscille Du Preez / Unsplash)

From spiritual healers to Serbian therapists to Mount Sinai psychiatrists, sixteen-year-old Tara Tomic ’25 has seen her fair share of mental health counselors. Beginning virtual therapy at just twelve years old, Tomic’s first experience with therapy was due to struggles that she had with depression. However, she found that the counselor was more focused on putting unnecessary generalized labels on her mental state rather than attempting to understand her unique experience. 

Deemed by Tomic as “far from helpful,” this initial therapeutic experience led her to quit therapy for some time before giving it another try several years later. During this period of her struggle with mental health and her search for help, Tomic was also able to find solitude in her friends and loved ones.  

“I think that I’ve just noticed that more and more of my friends and I are just comfortable talking about the fact we’re in therapy,” said Tomic. “A lot of people are just fine with admitting that they have anxiety or they have depression.” 

The idea that younger generations tend to lean more towards therapy is far from just Tomic’s personal opinion; It is a fact. Gen Z is 37 percent more likely to go to therapy or receive mental health treatment than other generational groups such as Millenials, Baby Boomers, or Gen X. 

In just the past decade, the stigma attached to mental health has significantly dwindled. While only 13 percent of American adults had visited a mental health professional in 2004, this number grew to 23 percent by 2022. The frowns and looks of judgment that once accompanied the open acknowledgement of mental disorders are withering, replaced with concerned expressions and offers of support, impacting newer generations the most. 

Having been in therapy for the past three years, Christopher Procaccino ’25 touches on this. “Lately people have been exposed to more positive and destigmatized depictions of mental health. It has become something that you can control by talking to someone, which is really great,” said Procaccino.

The question ultimately arises: Why? There has been an undeniable shift in societal outlook on a subject that was once isolated. What changed to make therapy suddenly so accepted, or even encouraged? 

Today’s widely accepted answer is also easily comprehensible: More people – particularly younger generations – are finding themselves in therapy because more of them need it.  

According to a 2021 American Psychology Association study, headline issues – from immigration to sexual assault– have caused significant anxiety among members of Generation Z. Mass shootings have topped off the list, with 75 percent of Gen Z members saying the fear of a mass shooting is a glaring source of stress in their day to day life. With most mass shootings taking place in schools or educational settings, it is not difficult to imagine why many students might fear going to school every day. When questioning why young people are feeling the mental effects of certain current events more than other age groups , the answer can be found in the longer term implications of these issues on their lives and their subsequent feeling that they have lost control.  

 “Current events are clearly stressful for everyone in the country, but young people are really feeling the impact of issues in the news, particularly those issues that may feel beyond their control,” said Dr. Arthur C. Evans, APA’s Chief Executive Officer. 

 Since a large portion of Gen Z lacks significant political rights due to their age, but are still exposed to a substantial amount of information through newer forms of media, there is an overwhelming sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of society, but with no simple solution to do so. 

Still, others believe that it is not the amount of worldly issues that is impacting peoples’ mental health; it is the increased access to information. “A lot of it [increased stress levels] has to do with social media and the overstimulation that comes with it. We are always hearing so much information, and it’s hard to keep track of how it is all impacting you,” said Tomic.

The rise of social media platforms and 24/7 news cycles mean that current events are not just headlines, but constant and pervasive discussions. The presence of these problems, from climate change to social injustices, are impossible to avoid, placing an immense toll on younger generations. Yet this desire to make a difference clashes with feelings of powerlessness, all expressed through mental strain, making therapy necessary. 

Still, there is the concern that social media is causing newfound confusion in younger generations as they might be having trouble differentiating between mental health issues and normal discomfort. This has gotten to the point that the term “mental health” has become so diluted that it has started to lose meaning. Are more people really in need of therapy, or do they think they are because the bar for what is deemed “mental illness” has been lowered? 

Social media has been seen to promote pathologizing language – often leading to “cancellation” – as the antidote to emotional discomfort. Instead of talking through a disagreement online, people are often  quickly labeled as a “gaslighter” or “toxic,” and an uncomfortable conflict is easily resolved with a click of the “Block” button. 

17-year old Zach Gottlieb, founder of Talk With Zach – an online platform dedicated to fostering open discussions amongst Gen Z –  claims that it is crucial for younger generations to be “comfortable with discomfort,” instead of falling apart when obstacles come our way. In the online world now, we are trying more and more to make everyone as comfortable as they can be with challenges such as trigger warnings – an impossible goal. By insisting that the mere mention of something difficult is bad for our mental health, Gottlieb claims, are we protecting ourselves from emotional damage — or damaging ourselves emotionally?

This newfound confusion about the factors impacting mental wellbeing could also lead to harmful self-diagnoses of certain mental health disorders. While promoting mental health awareness is undoubtedly beneficial, “There is definitely something to say about people who self diagnose themselves. Saying ‘Oh, I have depression, I know what it’s like,’ and then going around spreading misinformation can have a big net harm,” said Procaccino.

Still, the digital era’s contribution to the rise of a culture of sharing thoughts and emotions is not entirely harmful. Young people today have become much more vocal about their struggles and rather than  shying away from the discussion of mental health, they tend to discuss it openly.  “The high percentage of Gen Z reporting fair or poor mental health could be an indicator that they are more aware of and accepting of mental health issues,” said Evans, when discussing the possible explanations for rises in therapy. “Their openness to mental health topics represents an opportunity to start discussions about managing their stress, no matter the cause.” As conversations surrounding mental health become more normalized, the prospect of seeking therapy is less commonly seen as a sign of weakness, but more as an act of self-care and courage.

Or at least that is the case in America. While we have seen higher acceptance of mental health issues over the past few years, other countries lag behind, maintaining more dated perceptions of how mental health should be dealt with. 

Fifteen-year-old Ella Quesada is a prime example of the difference in ideologies. Quesada has moved around quite a bit throughout her lifetime, having been born and raised in Paris, living in New York for several years, and now in London. To her, the idea of therapy is ever-evolving and strongly influenced by how it is perceived by the society  around you. 

Having begun to struggle with her own mental health from a relatively young age, Quesada did not feel as comfortable sharing her struggles as many Americans do. “When I first told my parents I wanted to start therapy, they basically laughed in my face. Growing up French, topics like that were always invalidated.” said Quesada. “But when we started living in the United States and more of our American friends began talking about stuff like that more and more, I think they began to realize that it wasn’t that embarrassing. Therapy was actually helpful, and I finally began seeing someone.”

Quesada’s intercontinental experience with mental health stigma is demonstrated by broader international statistics. According to Our World in Data, the perceived discomfort when discussing mental health issues on a global average is 27.0%. Yet North America comes in at the tail end of this statistic, with only 17.1% of their population maintaining this sense of discomfort. To many, open discussions over mental struggles are taboo, but it is clear that these feelings of hesitancy are more prominent in other  regions of the world. 

Even within other cultures where therapy is more widely accepted, approaches to mental health vary quite a lot from the more docile strategies of American counselors. After Tara Tomic’s temporary resignation from therapy, she started up again while living in Serbia in 2021, having regular sessions with an Eastern European counselor. 

The strategies implemented there were significantly different from typical American therapeutic approaches, said Tomic. In contrast to the cautious phrasing of American counselors, overly aware of the danger of offending patients, Tomic describes her Serbian therapist as the exact opposite. “I’ve had issues with self harm in the past, and he just told me flat out that I need to stop. And that sounds stupid, but if you can get that through your head, it’s true and really helped me,” said Tomic. “You’re the only one in charge of your own mental health. That’s a pretty helpful realization.” 

The directness and candor valued in Eastern European practices may not be for everyone, but it certainly does illuminate the diversity of approaches seen in the current mental health landscape, starkly contrasting with the cautious phrasing often found in American counseling. Such differences highlight the importance of cultural context and individual preferences that are being taken into account more and more in shaping a therapeutic experience today. 

In a rapidly evolving mental health landscape, one thing remains clear: the reason behind the increasing number of individuals seeking therapy are as diverse as the people themselves. Understanding what mental health means within a broader context – one shaped by societal shifts and individual experiences – is crucial. The collective quest for mental well being can invite us to delve deeper into the intricacies of our mind, fostering empathy and understanding in an increasingly interconnected world.

“I think that I’ve just noticed that more and more of my friends and I are just comfortable talking about the fact we’re in therapy,” said Tara Tomic ’25. “A lot of people are just fine with admitting that they have anxiety or they have depression.” 

About the Contributor
Claire Elkin, Staff Reporter
Claire Elkin is a Copy Chief for ‘The Science Survey.’ She believes in the power of journalism and how it can shed light on topics and issues that may have never even crossed the mind of a reader. Writing has always been a passion of hers, and she hopes to continue with writing in the future, educating readers in any way that she can. Claire believes that both the beauties and the flaws of our world must be embraced, and good journalism absolutely has the power to embrace both. Despite the potential that comes with writing, when the words simply cannot be found, photojournalism can display emotions or a story in a way that journalism sometimes fails to do so. Outside of ‘The Science Survey,' Claire can be found playing guitar or reading in her free time. She loves to explore new areas, near and far, and plans to incorporate these discoveries into her writing. Claire plans on majoring in Psychology in college, but she also hopes that journalism or writing will play a role in whatever she does.