How Gen-Z is changing the conversation on mental health issues

Gen Z

If there is one thing that Gen-Zs deserve a pat on their back for, it’s how outspoken they are in terms of their mental health issues compared to the older generations.

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What you need to know:

  • You might have come across posts, videos or even memes slamming Gen-Zs.
  • Gen-Zs deserve a pat on their back for for being outspoken on mental health issues.

It is 2024, and there are so many things to worry about  — like whether Artificial Intelligence will take over all the jobs.

But there is one thing keeping some generations awake at night —  the fragility of Generation Z (Gen-Z). Social media platforms are awash with content from older generations trying to crack the nut that is Gen-Zs. 

You might have come across posts, videos or even memes slamming Gen-Zs.

The spat may not be solved in one article, but if there is one thing that Gen-Zs deserve a pat on their back for, it’s how outspoken they are in terms of their mental health issues compared to the older generations.

A study conducted by the American Psychological Association and published in the scientific journal Interactive Journal of Medical Research backs this assertion.

The research shows that when adolescents spend more time on social media while neglecting physical connections, they become the loneliest compared to those who spend less time on social media.

It is no coincidence that all Gen-Zs are digital natives, meaning that they were born in an age where most people globally had adopted the use of the internet. Access is an advantage that is served on their plate, and they are eating it; devouring to the fullest.

But is this just unique to them, or is it because of what is on their menu?

We speak to three Gen-Zs living with mental disorders. They share their struggles, emphasising the need to speak up, and why they feel let down by the government on matters mental health.


I have lived on this Earth for more than two decades, but it is slightly more than half of those years that I have felt okay. 

Other times, I either coiled in my room or embraced my demons by being a person that I am not. When I turned 18 a few years ago, I finally understood the crack that almost made my life crumble — I was diagnosed with clinical depression. 

Ruth Tengecha, Gen Z Mental Health Advocate during an interview in Nairobi On May 22 .

Photo credit: Hellen Shikanda| Nation

I have had a series of counselling sessions. I have also been prescribed drugs that help in making my world feel at peace.

My world spin started when I was 12. I could lock myself up in the room and felt that everything was overwhelming.

I missed meals and didn’t feel famished while at it.  I just used to feel like there was something wrong with me. When I joined high school, whose memory now gives me literal nightmares, my mental health spiralled from bad to worse.

I got bullied a lot and while I have forgiven those who did that to me, I am happy that I did not meet any of them in the university.

Now that I know better, I give them grace for not knowing what they were doing to my already disturbed mind because they could call me crazy and those words slowly started getting ingrained in my system. My reaction at school was to cry and lash out. 

I did not know why I was doing that. The people around me, especially in school, did not know a lot about mental health. So they just used to think that I was crazy and always had issues.

I struggled to maintain friendships. Instead of finding people who would talk me out of my weird thoughts, I would be cosy with those who affirmed that I was crazy.

There was a time when I was in Form One when I almost committed suicide in school, but I am glad I did not die —  it wasn’t my time.

The teachers knew about it and they told my parents, who picked me up and took me home. I stayed with them for a while and then went back to school with no professional help. My parents thought I was throwing tantrums because I did not like the school. 

It is my uncle, a pastor, who realised that I needed professional help from a counsellor. It is through therapy that I started making sense of why my classmates used to bully me. When we were in school, I believed they were horrid.

I used to get a lot of psychological bullying. I came to later realise —  after I talked about it in therapy — that people bully others because of how they feel on the inside, and it is not a reflection of who I was.

Acceptance, forgiveness and therapy have been the balm to my wound. I am bouncing back in a great way. I am currently not on any medication, but I still go for counselling. The suicidal thoughts have gone away. 

I have started loving myself more. I used to be my biggest hater and believed that nothing good could come out of me. While I am still a work in progress, I must say that I am at a better place. 

It’s not just in school that I got bullied. One of my family members also bullied me, and it didn’t help because we stayed in the same house.

I did not speak up at the time because I knew older people should know better, but I was wrong.

At my age now, I know that people younger than me could know something that I do not. It took me a while before I could open up even to my friends in school.

Now I use social media to promote mental health advocacy. Young people living with mental illnesses have been sending me messages seeking help. 

I can only offer help based on what I have learnt from my life and some bits and pieces from my therapist.

Sometimes I can’t help, so I prefer telling my followers to also go to a professional. I know God has been central in my healing, which is why I infuse that when encouraging people with mental health issues. 

I would like to tell the government to do better in terms of supporting people with mental illnesses. I think all insurers should include mental health in their covers. Invisible as it may seem, it is a disease like any other.


Growing up, I knew that the only disability I had was partial hearing loss. It is when I was 15 years old that I started exhibiting symptoms of mental illness.

It took about a year for me to get a diagnosis and ever since, I have been on treatment, getting monthly injections and daily pills.

I live with bipolar type 1, whose symptoms involve having manic episodes that can go to extremes. I can be out of control in everything that I do —  my speech, mannerisms — you name it.

Other times I lack sleep. That’s the first thing that tells me I am about to get a manic episode.

Mental Health

Esther Wangari, Mental Health Activist during a one-on-one interview at Nation Centre on May 22, 2024.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat| Nation

I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar. Most of the symptoms that I get are manic, paranoid, delusional and sometimes I get hallucinations.

One of the major hallucinations I get is that I tend to think I can hear God. I feel like I talk to God directly.

Other times, I start believing I am God, like a superhero. It’s hard to explain what really goes around in my own brain. 

This affected my behaviour in high school and I could not study well because there was no awareness. 

My fellow students thought I was misbehaving. I have been to mental hospitals several times, including Mathari National Teaching and Referral Hospital, where I almost ruptured my tendons while trying to break windows.

I am not sure about now, but there were no strong rooms for manic people.

The treatment for my condition is quite expensive, especially because I sometimes need electroconvulsive therapy.

My mum is my biggest support system. Even when everyone else runs away from me, she embraces me. She is the main reason why I am still alive today. 

I have been called names in my local dialect that denotes being a mad woman, but I am not. I managed to finish my high school education and enrolled in Amani Counselling Centre and Training Institute to study counselling psychology.

Unfortunately, I dropped out because the financial burden was weighing my family down. 

Now the only thing I do is to hawk pineapples at Bus Station in Nairobi and speak to passengers when I get the chance to. I get positive feedback from people who listen to what I tell them in the buses.

I have been invited to speak in schools because of the people I meet while hawking. 

Our government has failed us. Is it because leaders are supposed to be mentally stable so they all don’t relate to our struggles? I wish I could speak about this in Parliament.


A few years ago, I fell in love with a girl who I thought I would marry. We were all students at the time. When I cleared campus, we had a child together.  Unfortunately, her family did not support this move. 

Throughout her pregnancy journey, I was supportive of her and she also stuck by my side. It is after she gave birth that she was dissuaded from parenting at her young age. She connived with her family to tell me that she would be away on attachment in Nairobi and could not take care of the baby. 

That was a long con for her to let go of the baby and let me raise the child alone. One time she asked for forgiveness and wanted us to get back together, but she reneged on her original plan. 

The whole idea of losing the one person I loved with my whole heart, and seeing my child raised without a mother, weighed me down. I became depressed. I wanted to be alone.

I was a first time father and was learning the whole idea of fatherhood by myself. I have not been okay since then. 

I wish I could see a therapist but I cannot afford it at the moment. Any little money that I get, the baby becomes my top priority. I talk to my friends about my issues but I filter who to share with because some could be celebrating my downfall. 

I believe that I will bounce back one day. People need to talk about what is eating them up because mental illness, despite being invisible, can kill them. 

Why is this generation different?

Brian Yatibu, a psychologist at the African Mental Health Research and Training Foundation, says Gen-Z's outspoken nature about their mental health issues is an advantage to the profession.

He believes that what makes them different is that there is available information for them to learn from on the internet.

“With social media and the internet, information helps people speak up and this reduces stigma. We get more people talking about their mental health issues and they eventually get help,” he explains.

He, however, says the internet has two sides of the coin, which can either make or break one’s mental health. He asks every consumer to learn to sift the information that they take in for the sake of their mental health.

The psychologist explains that there are different triggers to Gen-Zs’ mental health that also make them speak up more than the previous generations; including social media and parenting styles.

“The way of life has changed. Parents stay at work for long and do not check up on their children. Some people are raised by single parents (for different reasons) and they may miss out some aspects which could contribute to mental illness,” he says.

While not everyone can afford therapy, Mr Yatibu says that having a supportive family can help someone who is struggling with a mental health condition.

“Parents don’t have to impose values that were in their generation to the younger generation. They should learn to teach them new values that are in line with the current world and regulate their consumption of what is online,” he advises.

Most young people are now diagnosed with psychosis, which has a spectrum of many other disorders like schizophrenia.

Sometimes this could be genetic but it could also be as a result of drug abuse. Drug abuse triggers some forms of mental illnesses that can be avoided,” he explains.