Generation Z Less Engaged with Behavioral Health Options Compared to Older Generations

New data suggests that young Americans are facing a number of significant behavioral health challenges, yet seem to be reluctant to seek out any help – suggesting that providers need to do a better job connecting with them for care.

The findings come from a series of surveys conducted by McKinsey & Company, which paints a troubling picture of Generation Z when it comes to their outlook on life and their hesitancy to address their issues.

The report is the latest worrisome data to come out in recent years on the emotional wellbeing of young America, which was underscored late last year when U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a declaration about youth mental health being at crisis levels.


For McKinsey’s research, the firm interviewed a sample size of Gen Z respondents who were defined as being between 16 and 24 years old. Statistics generated from the respondents were compared to older participants surveyed, who were categorized as being millennials, Generation X members and Baby Boomers.

When it came to being diagnosed with a mental health disorder, 24% of Gen Z respondents said they did not seek treatment, which was nine percentage points more than millenials who ranked second in the category. For Gen Z respondents who were battling substance use disorders (SUDs), 32% did not seek help – which was also tops among all the age groups polled and 10 percentage points more than millennials, who ranked second.

Source: McKinsey & Company

Members of Gen Z are considerably less connected to the health care system than their older counterparts, with two-thirds reporting that they were engaged at a low level compared to one-half from other generations. McKinsey posited that Gen Z’s low engagement rate may have to do with a quarter of respondents saying that they cannot afford mental health assistance, which they identified as being more cost prohibitive than other types of services such as health insurance, internet access and financial services.


In noting Gen Z’s perception about mental health care being unaffordable, McKinsey also pointed out that many behavioral health providers do not accept insurance.

“I found the perfect therapist for me but I couldn’t afford her, even with insurance,” one Gen Z respondent commented to McKinsey.

Reluctance to bring up mental health issues with parents was identified by McKinsey as a problem particularly among Gen Z respondents of color and those who are first-generation Americans. And even with the rise of telehealth since the pandemic, Gen Z respondents – widely considered to be technologically savvy – reported greater levels of dissatisfaction with online options compared to their older counterparts.

“For apps, Gen Z respondents noted a lack of personalization, as well as a lack of diversity—both in terms of the racial and ethnic diversity of the stories they presented, and in the problems that the apps offered tools to address,” McKinsey noted.

McKinsey reported that Gen Z respondents prize racial and ethnic diversity when it comes to choosing a behavioral health provider, and said that telehealth could play a role in making that more of a reality.

“Because Gen Z cares deeply about diversity, there are opportunities to integrate care and early intervention by offering a more racially and ethnically diverse behavioral-health workforce and culturally relevant digital tools,” McKinsey said.

The report also suggested that inroads with behavioral health for youth could also be made by addressing issues of parity, promoting stronger community-based responses to behavioral health issues and supporting a whole person care approach that integrates behavioral and physical concerns.

View the report from McKinsey here.

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