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Gen Z and Mental Health – New Frontiers

May 2, 2024

Written By Michael Robb

Struggles against mental health have persisted across generations, but the rising adults of Gen Z
have been able to confront them with an unprecedented level of unity and openness. What felt
impossible to discuss openly mere decades ago now has many outlets thanks to community-
minded spaces on the internet and influential artists expressing their personal struggles through
everything from songs to video games.

The internet and social media are often criticized as being sources of mental illness or negativity,
but less frequently considered are its abilities to offer safe, anonymous spaces where users can
open up about their vulnerabilities and find community in shared struggles or peace in having a
dedicated, active listener on call.

One such website, 7cups, allows users to create an anonymous account and connect with a non-
professional, volunteer listener trained to talk others through mental health crises. The service is
free and acts as a resource for both adolescents and adults as they overcome their respective
obstacles. Because licensed therapy or psychiatric care is too expensive or inaccessible for many,
access to alternatives such as these have proven beneficial to internet-savvy Gen Zers. Other
platforms where users regularly anonymously post about their mental health experiences to
closely moderated communities include Tumblr and Reddit.

Some of today’s most popular music artists have inspired Gen Z in the quest to destigmatize
mental health, including Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish. While watching these stars perform for
crowds of thousands, it can be easy to forget that they are human just like us – and they deal with
very personal struggles, the same as us. For many, like the two above, it becomes the driving
force behind their work – which touches the hearts of their millions of fans in their own times of

Last year, Ed Sheeran released a 4-part docuseries on Disney+ titled The Sum Of It All, where he
delved into the most difficult period of his life. In the series, he describes his struggle with grief
during a time of heavy losses, and how they fueled his creative process rather than destroy it.
Many of his songs, it is revealed, owe their existence to these low moments.
One need only listen to any of Billie Eilish’s songs to understand her history of coping with
mental health challenges – Everything I Wanted, the artist has admitted, is a product of her
darkest depressive episodes, while Not My Responsibility takes a stand against body dysmorphia
disorder. Millions of her young fans are dealing with these same struggles and find strength
against a common enemy.

Modern artistic depictions addressing mental health do not stop with songwriters, though. Video
games have become an increasingly popular medium, and opportunities to convey complex
issues like mental health have become more common. Two recent titles, Omori (2021) and
Psychonauts 2 (2021) have done so in an accessible, respectful fashion. Both games feature main
characters experiencing trauma and depict their overcoming of it. Additionally, both feature
disclaimers at the start of each – revealing the developer’s intentions and respecting their
audience’s potential triggers.

Omori follows a young boy across both his waking and dreaming life as he copes with an
unexpected tragedy – the whimsical characters and locations he discovers along the way
representing manifestations of his trauma. The core takeaway of the game for myself was the
enduring power of friendship and love in times of crisis – even when terrifying truths about
Omori’s situation and condition are revealed, his friends, either real or imaginary, stand by him
to the bitter end.

Psychonauts 2 is the journey of Raz – a psychic being, as he leaps across surreal mindscapes of
the story’s characters, confronting wicked forces within – mental creatures. According to an
interview article with GameInformer, the developers of the game, DoubleFine, hired Dr. Rafael
Boccamazzo, a clinical psychologist, to review the final product of the game to ensure they had
produced an ethical product diving into the controversial nature of mental illness. Because the
objective of the game is always to heal the twisted state of the mindscapes and not manipulate
beyond that, Psychonauts 2 stands as a landmark in gaming history – a groundbreaking, genre-
defying video game that addresses mental illness in an accessible, thought-provoking way.
Mental health was heavily stigmatized at the start of the 21 st Century, but a combination of
internet safe spaces and popular artistic depictions of the subject have opened the door for more
conversations and opportunities for growth. Gen Z has been at the forefront of this paradigm
shift, and will continue to work towards a more inclusive, accessible future with these
experiences in mind.

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