Despite risk analysis research demonstrating that we live in one of the safest times ever, Gen Z experiences a disparity in risk assessment essentially having the perception that risk is everywhere they turn.
An ongoing study presented by Montclair Justice Studies Professor Gabriel Rubin at the 2023 Society for Risk Analysis Annual Conference examines the risk factors that have led to the current mental health crisis among young people.
To date, 50 in-depth interviews have been conducted with people who fall within Gen Z – Americans born between 1997 and 2012 – that have identified risk factors impacting the generation including mass shootings, school lockdown drills, parental pressure, social media and the climate crisis.
What the findings show
Gen Z perceives more dangers in life than previous generations and are fed with a constant stream of news alerts that overemphasize their threat level. They are presented with a world where risk is black and white: things are safe (safe spaces, e.g.) or contain dangerous risk.
Prior risk research has demonstrated that risk is not black and white – there are many risks in life and they can be weighed, yet Gen Z members view risk as either the presence or absence of safety in a situation.
This research has so far revealed that the disparity in risk assessment has led many young people to feel anxious, depressed and even suicidal – especially young girls and women.
“There’s this misperception that Gen Z have high incidences of anxiety and depression because they’re overly coddled or too sensitive,” Rubin says. “In the interviews I found that, in addition to the stigma around mental health eroding, Gen Z young people are faced with tremendous pressures and daily concerns that combine to paint a picture of a very dangerous world.”
There are five main prescriptions this study can contribute to mental health and risk assessment concerns with Gen Z:
- Curate social media so that the individual is not bombarded with imagery that is upsetting, disturbing or depressing.
- Teach that risk is not all-or-nothing.
- Address the core issues behind the feelings of risk that young people hold. Including young people in these efforts, through intergenerational coalitions, movements or actions, would benefit all Americans.
- Provide context to help with perceptions brought on by availability heuristic and probability neglect. Contextualizing tragedies and news items in media and social media will help people see where risks really lie.
- Stress the value of in-person community, especially in mental health campaigns.
“The root factors of the mental health crisis are very real,” Rubin emphasizes. “Young people feel that their rights to bodily autonomy have been taken away, that their schools are unsafe and that climate change will soon destroy the planet. We need to work together on these topics and not just look at mental health symptomatically.”
For more information and to set up an interview, contact the Media Relations team.