The internet has gotten some things right; mental illness is not the exception.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 21% of U.S. adults struggled with mental health in 2020. Research indicates that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75% of illnesses start by age 24.
Gen Z and parts of the Millennial generation grew up largely with the internet, exploring a world where there is a community for everyone to share their experiences. This cultural shift has led older generations to reconsider the stigma around mental health and what living with a mental illness entails.
While the internet has helped individuals find solace in feeling they are not alone, it may leave people of all ages to assimilate misinformation about mental illness, according to Jodi Lorenzen, a clinical mental health counselor at Salt Lake Community College’s Center for Health and Counseling.
Lorenzen treats both older and younger patients regularly and said it can be easy to associate getting help with something wrong or shameful.
“People tend to think they are broken if they have mental health problems, more so than physical problems,” she said, explaining that physical ailments are not typically viewed as the person’s fault, whereas mental health issues sometimes, and incorrectly, are.
Now, with 13 years of experience in mental health treatment, Lorenzen believes the internet has created a space for mental illness to be normalized.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not just me. I can get help for this,’” she explained.
Younger generations, who are often more influenced by the people they follow on social media, tend to be quicker to seek treatment than their predecessors, according to the American Psychological Association.
Despite criticisms that overusing social media can lead to anxiety and depression, the APA found that 37% of Gen Zers and 35% of Millennials were more likely to have received treatment or gone to therapy, compared to 26% of Gen Xers, 22% of Baby Boomers, and 15% of the Silent Generation, or adults born before 1945.
Ian Eggleston, a 19-year-old biology student at SLCC, believes younger people are more open to treatment.
“[They are more] willing to change and adapt to new information,” he said. “There’s a lot more learning about it [now], and a lot more knowledge.”
Anita Riddle, a 58-year-old music major, recalled students with more severe mental illnesses being educated separately in school.
“As adults, they were often institutionalized,” she said.
Riddle feels the recent influx of mental health positivity is partly due to celebrity endorsement, mentioning Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who temporarily withdrew from the delayed Tokyo Olympics after citing poor mental health.
Because of Biles and other celebrity experiences, “Others may feel less inhibited to express their mental issues and obtain proper treatment,” Riddle said.
Still, Lorenzen urged people of all ages to be social media literate when it comes to interpreting messages around mental health.
“There are some really wonderful and credited people out there who know what they are talking about,” Lorenzen said. However, she noted there might also be an unqualified influencer who “just wants to talk about depression.”
There’s a large range of information online, and sometimes people don’t know how to filter that information, Lorenzen explained. She encourages individuals to instead reflect and focus on building a relationship with their own emotions.
“[With] all of this information pouring in, not paying attention to what’s going on internally means we are missing out,” she said. “Our bodies and brains are working together for our own good – even if it looks strange.”
More information and mental health resources can be found on the SLCC website under the Center for Health and Counseling.