Mental Health and the Future of Diversity and Inclusion: A Discussion with Gen Z

Mental Health and the Future of Diversity and Inclusion: A Discussion with Gen Z

This is the fifth part of a six part series.

“We are in a huge mental health crisis… a real one.” Tony Ortiz, Ph.D., Founder, Principal Investigator and Scientific Director at the NRC Research Institute

Tony Ortiz made the statement in October at the fourth annual Leadership in the Age of Personalization Summit, held in October at Clemson University’s Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business.


And since then, experts after experts have sounded the alarm.

Just a few days ago, the Washington Post ran an article with this headline: “The student mental health crisis is much larger than we realize.” The story cites Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Alberto Carvalho as saying he heard from mental health partners in the district that day that calls about suicidal thoughts had quadrupled. “The need is real, the need is dire,” Carvalho said. “We live in historically unprecedented times.”

This article is part five of a six-part series on managing uncertainty in business, healthcare, and higher education. The articles in this series feature a mix of written content and short videos from individuals from all walks of life.

part one introduced the secret to navigating uncertainty: seeing change as an opportunity, not a threat. Second part how uncertainty forces higher education to evolve, while part three examined how uncertainty affects the workplace. Fourth part explored what executives have to say about ESG, DEI and how uncertainty affects their approach to market sustainability.


In this article, I’ll explore insights shared by Dr. Ortiz, an expert in the field of mental health, and a panel of experts on Gen Z – that is, the real Gen Z ‘ers: a current graduate student, a current undergraduate student, and a current high school student. They shared their ideas during Session 4 of the summit mentioned above.

The theme of the summit was navigating through uncertainty. The pandemic has introduced an unprecedented level of uncertainty into the daily lives of young people – lives that are usually already full of uncertainties to grow and find your way.


But how can colleges, universities, businesses and other organizations prepare for this future generation of students and employees?

The truth about mental health in young adults

Tony Ortiz, Ph.D., is a researcher who has studied mental health issues extensively. He is the founder, principal investigator and scientific director of the NRC Research Institute. He has also experienced a mental health crisis in his lifetime and knows its severity first hand.

He opened the session with a keynote address on mental health in young adults, noting that the rate of mental health problems has increased dramatically in recent years, largely due to unprecedented changes in lifestyle and socialization caused by the pandemic. He said universities can combat this trend by raising awareness about mental health topics and creating spaces where students can decompress and connect with others.


Watch this short video to learn about his personal story and professional concerns about our lack of preparedness for the mental health needs of the future generation of students and employees.

The Future of Diversity and Inclusion: Perspectives from Emerging Generations

During the panel discussion that followed, members of this future generation explored the challenges of managing a disability and the importance of being able and willing to talk about our differences so that we can connect and learn the each other.

Ioanna Beckman is a graduate student in statistics at the University of Washington. She recently earned a Bachelor of Science in Statistics and a minor in Sociology from the University of Florida.


Beckman is visually impaired and had to navigate his higher education experiences by freeing himself from his own fears. She said for her that almost every day comes with something uncertain. One thing she learned is that the more uncomfortable and uncertain situations you put yourself in, the more you grow. She also said that to create a more inclusive environment for people with disabilities, we should be open to talking about it more.

Brielle Lubin is a youth advocate and junior at Harvard West Lake High School in Los Angeles, where she directs the Gender and Sexuality Awareness Club and the Asian American Cultural Club. She agreed with the idea that we need to talk about the issues that make us uncomfortable – how else are we supposed to connect with people and learn more about them? Not wanting to talk about difficult things means we deny people an opportunity and a space where they can actually be safe.

Scott Cole is a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, studying operations management and marketing at the Leeds School of Business. He said it was important to be able to be with different people or people with different opinions because it allows you to see the perspectives of your peers who have different backgrounds and see where they are coming from – which might even change or influence your own opinion.


Watch this short video for more insight from this panel of experts representing the future generation of our workforce and leaders.

Your future students and employees tell you exactly what they expect from you. They need to be able to be themselves and not have to hide. But many of our institutions were formed in very different times and under much narrower definitions of what success looked like. How to adapt these increasingly irrelevant standards that have taken root?

I’ll explore this topic in Part Six of this series, where we’ll discover a way to methodically break down the deep-rooted barriers that make it difficult to create a culture that honors individuality while being welcoming to all.


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