Baby boomers and Generation X often deem Generation Z weak. “Failure is a key to success,” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and other mantras of the past have come crashing down for young people who struggle with their mental health. But in the face of these obstacles, Gen Z has an opportunity to acquire problem-solving skills and develop emotional resilience to improve their mental health.
Fortunately, the stigma around mental health vulnerabilities has recently declined, and we the people of Gen Z are more comfortable reaching out for help. But we are still reported to be the most diagnosed generation yet, with up to 44 percent of college students facing anxiety and depression. Research shows that these conditions generally stem from isolation during the pandemic, feeling overwhelmed with school, work and internships or experiencing uncertainty about finances, jobs and future aspirations. Instead of confronting challenges head-on, many have resorted to self-harm and substance abuse at alarming rates unlike other generations. But here at the University, I have partnered with GW Hillel to tackle the need for resilience head-on. Through GW Hillel’s newly launched mental health program and my personal research, we are establishing resilience groups on campus, open to all.
The return of students to campus last fall following the University’s reopening from the pandemic overwhelmed GW’s Counseling and Psychological Services with a depleted staff struggling to handle every student’s needs. Ever since, GW Hillel has been intent on establishing a mental health hub for students of any faith or demographic to help fill this gap. A new mental health extern named Celina Alvarez joined GW Hillel’s team this year to provide therapy sessions to students in hopes of providing a supplement to Counseling and Psychological Services. Now she’s helping to create student-led spaces for students to develop resilience, confidence and manage their own mental health outside of or in addition to traditional therapy sessions.
Members of GW Hillel’s staff and I first connected over how the lessons in my book, “My Mother’s Mirror,” could help other students with their confidence and decision making. Resilience groups are small group seminars with no more than 10 students who discuss shared challenges, like stress, identity crisis, cross-cultural communication, parenting, religion, friendships or relationships. Students who join these groups will not only benefit from fortifying their mental toolbox, but they will also build a supportive group of friends to empower each other on a campus that is often criticized for lacking a sense of community mental health resources.
Some of these tools come from the SELF-Ex program, which stands for set purpose, evaluate the situation, list all possible solutions, forge ahead and take action, then examine outcomes. The examination allows for a reflection on purpose. In their workshops, resilience groups will also incorporate GRIT – an acronym that the University of Southern California coined to stand for gratitude, responsibility, integrity and tenacity, which together can transform obstacles into opportunities and generate confident, value-based decisions. To embody GRIT, students need the safe space from resilience groups to voice challenges while embracing and managing their emotions.
Once the program is fully developed by next month, I hope to be a partner with the University to focus on especially catering resilience groups to first-year students, perhaps in New Student Orientation programming. If students begin to cultivate resilience at the onset of their college experience, they can prevent potential episodes of discouragement and manage the obstacles they’ll face in their four-year journey and beyond. Any student who wants to form their own resilience group around a particular theme can reach out to GW Hillel or me via email or Instagram @sabrina.soffer. As this resilience movement grows on campus, I hope the demand facing CAPS will ease so it can attend to the students who need help the most.
Resilience groups are not a replacement for licensed counselors and therapists, but they’re another avenue where students can bolster their mindsets outside of the clinical realm in a student setting. Sometimes, the clinical aspect of therapy seems intimidating to Gen Z because therapists might lack a connection to the younger age without the same vulnerability that young people feel. That’s why students often open up to their closest friends for advice – those who will be able to share the safe space of resilience groups.
Sharing the common bond of stress and anxiety, identity formation and relationship issues, Gen Z students who join resilience groups can find a shoulder to lean on for guidance and building resilience. Resilience groups can help GW students strengthen their mental muscle just as much as their academic one so that they feel equipped to manage adversities confidently at GW and beyond. I hope these resilience groups can inspire future generations with practical tools that make each challenge a pathway to strength and confidence.
Sabrina Soffer, a sophomore majoring in philosophy with a public affairs focus, is an opinions writer.