Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 on Minorities, Millennials, and Gen Z
Note: This article was originally published on CredibleMind
As we head into the eighth month since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in full force, the predicted “second wave” is causing cases in the U.S. to surge once again. This time, we are also feeling the effects of yet another devastating wave: a rising toll on mental health.
The widespread, invisible, and ongoing nature of the virus contributes to a sense of profound fear and uncertainty. Meanwhile, the measures put in place to contain it, such as social distancing and stay-at-home orders, have added another layer of complexity by restricting human contact and disrupting the social fabric of our lives. The practices we have relied on to create meaningful social connections to support each other in the face of adversity—physical contact, social gatherings, and cultural and religious rituals—are now potentially dangerous themselves.
With the additional pressures of an economic recession, heightened political tensions, and massively disruptive climate events, many people are struggling with unprecedented levels of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, mental health disorders were at the top of the list of the most costly conditions in U.S. health care,  with nearly one in five U.S. adults living with a mental illness as of 2017.  The pandemic has only exacerbated this harsh reality by placing additional pressure on an already strained system. By August 2020, the U.S. had not only the highest number of pandemic cases and deaths in the world but a population that was also suffering more mental health consequences than people in other countries. 
Like the virus itself, pandemic-related mental health consequences are having a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable groups, including Black and Latinx people, Native Americans, older adults, lower socioeconomic groups, health care workers, people who were already struggling with mental health issues, and unpaid caregivers.  And while young adults have so far tended to exhibit milder symptoms when infected with coronavirus, they are at the top of the list of high-risk population groups in regard to mental health.
Millennials and Gen Z: Challenges and Opportunities
CDC survey findings released in August 2020 found that 75 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom, and 26 percent reported having seriously considered suicide within 30 days before completing the survey.  The 18- to 29-year-old demographic has consistently reported higher rates of symptoms of anxiety or depression compared to other age groups since the beginning of the pandemic. 
Before COVID-19, Gen Z was already significantly more likely than other generations to report their mental health as fair or poor.  Financially, many Millennials (ages 24 to 39) were still trying to make up lost ground from the Great Recession of 2008, and the effects of yet another deep recession could be significant and long-lasting, making it harder to achieve financial stability, buy a home, and save for retirement. 
In addition to financial insecurity, these generations experience stress and anxiety caused by issues such as climate change, healthcare costs, the welfare of their families, precarious long-term career prospects, work/life balance, and the inability to be their authentic selves.  The challenges of 2020 have exacerbated these tensions, but they have also reinforced a commitment to building a better world by pushing businesses and governments to prioritize people and the planet as much as profits.
Because Millennials and Gen Zs together account for most of the global workforce, their mental health struggles present an enormous challenge for employers around the world. Yet this is also an opportunity for businesses to provide innovative solutions to address employee needs, from diversity and inclusion concerns to re-skilling and sustainability initiatives. Employers should prioritize mental health by providing their workers with support and resources, addressing work-related stress, and working to eliminate the lingering stigma around mental health disorders. 
Leaders must recognize the impact the workplace has on employee wellness by providing health support services, especially those that target high-risk groups.  With screening and assessments, employers can identify vulnerable individuals and engage them in the right programs to support their wellbeing and prevent future mental health challenges. Failure to meet this responsibility will cause individuals, communities, economies, and societies to suffer.
We are all in uncharted territory. Employers, however, can look to organizations that can provide expertise and resources to support them in creating or expanding employee mental health and wellness support services. As pandemic-related mental health consequences continue to affect all segments of the workforce, now is a crucial time for leaders to step up and position their organizations at the forefront of the movement towards better mental health and wellbeing for all.
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