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Mental health concerns turn Gen Z away from religion

Religious practice has dropped significantly as newer generations become more attuned to their mental health.

A survey by the Survey Center on American Life found that Gen Z is the least religious generation yet. Over a third of Gen Z identifies as religiously unaffiliated.

However, Gen Z has been shown to have more open discussions on mental health than previous generations. American Psychological Association found that they are more likely to report mental health concerns than any other demographic group.

According to a study done by Ogilvy, 70% of Gen Z agree that their mental health needs the most attention and improvement.

This focus on mental health is one indicator of Gen Z’s decline in religion.

According to Global Center for Religious Research, around one-third of adults in the United States likely have experienced religious trauma at some point in their life.

Studies from National Alliance on Mental Health suggest that religion can often increase depression from guilt, shame, and anxiety from threats of punishment and eternal damnation.

Anika Kim, a fashion merchandising major, said rigid practices of religion, such as praying three times a day, can be a lot.

“Everyone says to do all these things to get into heaven, and I just feel sometimes it can be overwhelming,” Kim said.

Many religions often have strict moral guidelines that followers are expected to abide by. While they offer structure and a moral compass to individuals, they can also lead to stress and anxiety.

“I have to be a different person to be a Christian and that’s so hard,” Kim said.

Teachings of eternal punishment have been shown to increase fear and anxiety amongst followers, especially those at a young age.

According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, religious trauma often occurs during childhood.

Esther Chan, a neurobiology major, said she grew up in a non-denominational Chinese Christian church and had a love-hate relationship with her religion.

“There are definitely some hard things that come with Christianity that are really hard pills to swallow,” Chan said.

Chan said this could be one of the factors for Gen Z being less religious.

“Parents believe that forcing [their children] to do good moral things is good or forcing them to go to church is good,” Chan said. “A lot of the kids of these parents are now really upset about not having that choice.”

Chloe Paraguya, a psychology major who grew up attending a Catholic school, said religion has positively and negatively affected her mental health.

“It’s been instilled in me to turn to a higher power, to God,” Paraguya said. “I definitely think it has helped me through some rough times where I feel like there’s nothing that’s helping me.”

At the same time, Paraguya said there is still a notable negative side effect to Catholicism, such as “Catholic guilt,” where she has often found that trying to stay aligned with her faith is like putting up a front.

“Catholic guilt gets to me sometimes where I’m like, ‘oh, I shouldn’t be doing this,'” she said. “It just feels like there’s like a cognitive dissonance sometimes when it comes to religion and living out your life.”

Paraguya recalled being taught about hell at only four years old and being scared to death.

She hopes religious practices could move away from emphasizing punishment and focus more on kindness to lessen religion’s adverse effects on mental health.

“We should emphasize the part of a religion where we focus on being kind to each other,” Paraguya said. “Like really living up to the word where it says helping people and giving to people a need instead of focusing on the more damning aspects.”

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