Listening to a Generation in Crisis

The last two years have impacted our community in immeasurable ways. The mental, emotional and physiological distress we’ve collectively endured is only starting to surface. For some of us, we brushed the dust off our shoulders as we jumped back into our daily routines…but for others, the crippling weight of anxiety, depression, trauma and fear have left us feeling lost, hopeless and alone. Recent studies are unveiling the alarming impact the pandemic, social media and changing socio-economic times have had on our young adult population.

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, “1 in 4 respondents ages 18 to 24 had considered suicide within the past month”. An unprecedented ratio of young adults are in the middle of a mental health crisis. In addition to suicidal ideation, over 75% of young adults reported having “mental or behavioral health symptoms”. We can see this generational crisis in our households, in our schools, on social media and in a variety of community settings. The question isn’t whether it exists, it’s are we listening?

The generational crisis is even more dire for young adults with a pre-existing mental health diagnosis. A recent Columbia University study reported staggering rates of suicide for young adults experiencing schizophrenia, with men ages 18 – 34 having an 8.2 times higher suicide rate than the general public. As a community, what are we doing to address this preventable mental health crisis?

Traditional mental health support appears to be insufficient in addressing all of the emerging challenges faced by young adults. To better understand the unique challenges faced by our young adult population, Community Connection conducted a focus group of “Generation Z” community members. Three key findings from the focus group provided us with actionable data to help address this generational crisis; 1.) Young adults are experiencing anxiety and depression on a scale never before experienced due to social media dependency, the pandemic and a volatile socio-economic climate; 2.) Current mental health services are inaccessible to young adults. Innovations in mental health services are necessary to engage most young adults; 3.) Most young adults seek mental health support online through TikTok, Instagram and “talking with online strangers”.

Funded by Santa Cruz County Behavioral Health, Community Connection utilized the data to develop an innovative and holistic approach to mental health wellness for young adults in Santa Cruz County. The new program, Wellness Connect, provides young adults with an array of free services including wellness coaching, employment and education support, case management, family support, online services, substance use treatment and a highly effective evidence-based practice aimed at supporting young adults experiencing a first episode of psychosis, NAVIGATE. The Wellness Connect program launches on October 18th, 2021 and will be available to the general public Monday – Saturday.

The coordinated development and launch of Wellness Connect is our community’s first step to addressing the generational crisis. We are dedicated to learning more from our community to better serve young adults. Join us in our mission to connect our community to a meaningful and healthy life. Learn more about Wellness Connect here.

Shawn Peterson, MSML

Director of Community Connection