What the withdrawals of big athletes tell us about the current state of mind of Gen Z

Two successful athletes, Simone Biles (24) and Naomi Osaka (23) recently withdrew from the Olympic competition to preserve their mental health. Prioritizing mental health on the biggest  stage in sport marks a new era of mental health awareness among not only other athletes, but society as a whole.

It’s not just famous athletes who are done staying silent. Some of this new drive to be proactive and public about mental wellness may be a generational shift. Generation Z is generally more open than prior generations when it comes to seeking both mental health care and disclosing their experiences, according to psychologist B. Janet Hibbs. And to no surprise, this young generation is at the forefront of a mental health revolution. The pandemic has taken an outsize toll on young people who already had reported the worst mental health in comparison to their elders. 62.9% of 18- to 24-year-olds report symptoms of anxiety or depression according to a 2020 CDC survey. The highest of any age group.

The APA survey highlights the biggest threats to psychological health and wellbeing among young people. The narrowing definition of life success is leading to destructive perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking, high levels of loneliness, the substitution of social media for a true friendship network, and a constant bombardment of negative self-comparisons are the biggest drivers of mental health issues among the generation.

The withdrawals of big athletes tell us that the time is ripe for a revolution in mental health and greater well-being — and the generation represented by Biles and Osaka may be the best one to push for it. Brands can take on multiple roles to help prevent and ease mental health issues among Gen Z. From connecting Gen Z with tools and resources to support mental health and providing therapy sessions for employees, to handing out rewards for being kind, nice and helpful to other college’s, and giving free days to ease COVID-related stress. To name just a few…