Gen Z or iGens represent 100 percent of the students in our nation's schools. They will represent 40% of the population by 2020. Research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America revealed 80 percent of Gen Z experiences mild to moderate depression, and anxiety. Less than 20 percent are diagnosed and getting help. I write about this challenge in the Gen Z chapter of my book, Intergenerational Engagement: Understanding the Five Generations in Today's Economy.
If you follow me regularly, you know that I am a staunch advocate for teen mental health. I have seen the harmful effects of mental illness in schools, families, and communities. For years, I have felt teen mental health is a silent epidemic. When there is a mass shooting, the media mentions mental illness but within a few days, it's all about the guns and after a few weeks, it's old news, and we go silent again.
I do believe gun regulation is a part of the problem along with school safety, mental health, and parent education. Those four issues should be addressed simultaneously as one issue alone will not suffice.
In the "education" chapter of my book, I write about how our nation's education system is risk-averse and slow to adopt disruptive technologies that provide real solutions. Districts are aware of the challenges and do want to address them. In my experience, they will listen to the proposals but usually, revert to the status-quo.
I am incredibly disturbed and upset this week because I feel we had, and still, have an incredible program that addresses teen mental health. The program provides every teen in a school district 24-7 access to a professional counselor through their smartphones. Teens can choose to communicate with their counselor by text, voice, or facetime through the device that is never more than arm's length away. In my book, I shared my frustration with school district's reluctance to embrace the solution.
Why is this such a great solution?
Wired for instant gratification, waiting days or sometimes weeks to talk to a school counselor is not an option for Gen Z students. The average school counselor is responsible for over 482 students. If 80 percent of teens experience mental health challenges, that means each school counselor has 385 kids that need to talk. The chance of that depressed and anxious teen getting an immediate appointment to talk with someone is not realistic. So they stay in their bedrooms, anxious, depressed, and alone with their device. We have the technology that turns that device into an instant resource, an access point to talk to someone that can provide them comfort before their mental health issues escalate to something more dyer.
Last year, we offered the service at no cost to school districts throughout Florida, including Broward County, where fourteen teens and three teachers were shot by a mentally deranged former student. Only one Florida school district allowed us to offer the service to their students and they did it very reluctantly, so parents and students didn't know that help was literally at their fingertips.
Last week's school shooting was tragic. I am praying that the tough talk from Florida's Governor Rick Scott, President Trump, and school leaders are not "just talk" this time. I'm proud of our youth speaking up across the country spreading the #NeverAgain message and demanding action. I know a lot about our youngest generation. One thing is for sure; they are not going to be silent and take the status quo. As adults, we need to open our minds and listen.
I am also hoping that school districts and governments finally look at the technology we have that can provide every teen a professional counselor to talk to when they need it. I'd be happy to discuss the program with anyone interested. You can respond to this post or reach out privately email@example.com.
If you have connections with people that can make that happen, please share this post with them.
Dillon Kalkhurst is the author of the book Intergenerational Engagement: Understanding the Five Generations in Today's Economy. He founded The Center for Intergenerational Engagement to support the findings in his book. His organization helps companies, school districts, and national nonprofit organizations maximise their "age diverse" populations and create a harmonious work and community environment.