Generation Z, the demographic cohort born from the mid-to-late 1990s to the early 2010s, appears to be experiencing higher levels of mental health issues than any previous generation, creating a public health concern that demands our immediate attention. The digitized world that Gen Z inhabits has its perks, but it also seems to be contributing to a surge in psychological distress.
A recent analysis of National Survey on Drug Use and Health data reveals that the rate of young adults experiencing serious psychological distress increased by 71% from 2008 to 2017, a period that largely covers the maturation of Gen Z. Alarmingly, a report from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that the Gen Z cohort is significantly more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor, compared to other generations.
Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and suicidal ideation appear to be more prevalent among Gen Z than in previous generations. Various studies suggest that the explosion of social media, economic instability, climate change anxieties, and the global pandemic might be potential drivers of this mental health crisis.
Comparatively, previous generations faced their own unique challenges. The Silent Generation, who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II, Baby Boomers during the Vietnam War, and Millennials during the Great Recession, all had their share of distressing events. However, the widespread and accessible nature of the digital age has put Gen Z on the frontline of an information onslaught, presenting a new set of complex mental health challenges. A doctor on YouTube named Dr. Kaveh often shares videos about his work as an anesthesiologist and integrative medicine expert, encouraging people to take control of their own health. In a recent video, he explains how loneliness and mental health issues show up in Gen Z when they're going in for surgery.
Doctor Explains How Gen Z's Loneliness and Mental Health Issues Show Up under Anesthesia
Dr. Kaveh says he encounters many Gen Z individuals before they go into surgery, and he has the responsibility of preparing their anesthesia to ensure the procedure goes well. One thing he has noticed is that many of these young adults are on some kind of anti-depressant. Every person has to disclose all the medication they are taking because this information is extremely important for Dr. Kaveh to perform his job safely. He says most Gen Zers say something like, "I take Prozac for my depression." Their depression or mental health issue has become an identity of sorts for these people. They don't take Prozac (or Zoloft, etc.) to help heal their depression; they simply take it for their depression, which seems like something they are just stuck with for their entire life.
Many of his interactions with Gen Z patients lead him to believe that most of them are "left out, poorly understood, lacking companionship." Dr. Kaveh expresses concern about how many Gen Zers are living isolated lives that only exacerbate mental health problems.
"Gen Zers are more likely to grab for sleep aids when they encounter insomnia," he explains. "Insomnia is more commonly associated with individuals that are experiencing loneliness, as well as depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, etc."
When Dr. Kaveh is deciding how much propofol to administer, which is an intravenous anesthetic used for procedural sedation, the patient has to inform him of what kind of sleep aids they use, including marijuana. Gen Zers are more likely to use marijuana compared to other age demographics, and this shows up on the operating table because Dr. Kaveh has to adjust the doses of anesthesia (or even medical-grade fentanyl) depending on how much marijuana they use. These individuals have a higher tolerance to medications, including anesthesia, so he has to crank up the numbers and sometimes even administer two times more of the medication and anesthesia gas "because their brain is seeing so many other substances." He identifies loneliness, depression, generalized anxiety, and substance use disorder as other comorbidities of loneliness.
Additionally, when your central nervous system is on high alert all the time due to chronic loneliness, this in and of itself can increase how much anesthesia the patient needs, according to Dr. Kaveh. Then you toss in Prozac, Zoloft, or any other SSRI, and you need even more anesthesia medication to get the job done.
Dr. Kaveh also talks about how Gen Z patients are much more likely to stay on their phone up until the very last second, even while he is giving them a shot such as a nerve block. Instead of interacting with the doctors and fully stepping into the environment that their body is in, they try to distract themselves as much as possible. While distraction can be helpful before surgery, Dr. Kaveh says it's not healthy to entirely remove yourself from the situation and suppress your concerns about the procedure you're about to undergo.
"Distracting from the root cause only makes anesthesia worse," he says. If the patient doesn't face their anxiety about the surgery, and instead distracts themselves and avoids their concerns, they are more likely to wake up "delirious, kicking and screaming." Because your brain isn't forming memories yet when you first wake up from anesthesia, you won't remember this. But he says if you ask any anesthesiologist, they will tell you that the people who wake up freaked out, emotional, or delirious are usually the ones who have successfully distracted themselves before the surgery. The ones who wake up peaceful and calm are the ones who have faced their own concerns before the anesthesia hit.
Dr. Kaveh closes by reminding people that they have much more control over their health than they might think. Gen Z, just like any other generation, has the power to limit screen time, be fully honest with themselves about their anxiety and concerns, and make more of an effort to develop warm relationships with the people around them. Dr. Kaveh also encourages older people to check in on Gen Z and reach out if they seem like they're struggling with their mental health. Sometimes a simple phone call can make a difference in someone's life.
One of the biggest common denominators in the Blue Zones is the strength of warm relationships. Many times, this factor matters more than a person's diet, exercise regimen, or even their lifestyle. If people realized this and put more effort into their family and friends—and less time into screens and social media—they might find that their health will improve, as well as their mental wellness.
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