Purpose: Three Ways Adults Can Bolster Gen Z Mental Health

 In Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’ll be sharing tips from our insights from young people on mental health. For our report The State of Religion and Young People 2022: Mental Health – What Faith Leaders Need to Know, For this report, nearly 10,000 young people answered survey questions about their beliefs, practices, behaviors, relationships, and this year’s focus: their mental health. In addition, more than 100 young people participated in interviews about the same themes. 

One of the things we learned from young people is that having a sense of purpose matters. Two out of every three young people we surveyed tell us they live their life with a sense of purpose. Jade, 22, told us that spirituality and purpose can alleviate a lot of the anxiety that comes with ambiguity and constant searching.

I think that having a larger sense of purpose allows [one] to feel more grounded instead of being, like, a lot of times when you’re in your teens, you’re just like, Where do I go? But it gives them almost a guide path or something to work with.

Many of the young people we interviewed said that being of service to others, meeting personal goals, and investing in family and friend relationships are the heart of their sense of purpose. When we asked young people ‘what experiences have helped you discover your purpose?’, their responses showed that how they seek and where they discover purpose is diverse.

What experiences have helped you discover your purpose?

Young people could select more than one response.

Asking questions and seeking information about things that matter to me
Experiencing trauma, hardship, or illness, either of my own or someone I care about
Following beliefs I was taught about how to treat others
Caring for and supporting people in my life
Making music or art
Being inspired by what someone I look up to is doing with their life
Developing expertise or skills
Traveling, camping, or hiking in nature or in places with different cultures than my own
Being part of a community that values treating others with care and respect
Experiences of God’s presence in my life
Belonging to a religious or spiritual community
Participating in religious or spiritual practices

So how can adults working with young people help them to discover their purpose? 

Allow them to ask the big questions. More than half of young people we surveyed said asking questions and seeking information about things that mattered to them was integral to finding their purpose. Young people appreciate adults who take their questions seriously and provide opportunities to explore them. Springtide often remarks that young people are at the intersection of being and becoming. Find or create concrete opportunities, like workshops, spiritual conversations, and intentional acts of accompaniment, helps young people investigate these questions, which may ultimately lead to a greater sense of purpose.  

Help them to process trauma and hardship. Going through a difficult time is one of the primary ways young people tell us they are discovering a sense of purpose in life. Adults don’t need to be mental health first-responders to help them navigate hardship. Simply meeting young people where they’re at and making space for addressing these concerns is valuable for their mental wellness. 

Encourage integrity between beliefs and practices. Thirty-five percent of young people told us that following the beliefs they were taught about how to treat others has helped them discover a sense of purpose. The ability to process abstract thought is still developing during adolescence, so it makes sense that young people benefit from putting ideas into action. Adults can provide opportunities to implement those beliefs and encourage the connection between belief and practice.

Make a difference today.

Support the young people in your midst using the data and insights from The State of Religion & Young People 2022 and the accompanying guide.

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