“We live in a period of chronic stress”: Psychologist weighs in on rising stress levels

The importance of dealing with and seeking out assistance for mental health has become more common over recent years, but regardless of the decrease in societal taboos, young people in Czechia – specifically Gen Z and Millennials, are dealing with high levels of stress in their everyday lives. I spoke with Tom Mertin, a psychologist based in Prague, about what he has observed in his practice.

A recent report from Czech Radio (iRozhlas) came out that indicates 32% of gen z and 31% of millennials in Czechia are feeling stress on a daily basis. From the work you do in your practice, are you surprised when you hear these numbers?

“Not at all, and I think part of the reason for these numbers is that more people are aware of their mental health, and more people actually would consider indicating that they have struggles when it comes to their mental health.”

When you say people are more aware of these issues, what are the factors that typically drive the stress or anxiety that people are coming in to talk about?

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“We live in a period of chronic stress. The demands coming from academia, work, relationships and communication, there are so many areas that put a lot of stress on us. Very often, the resources are scarce, we are limited in time. Then people look to the outside world and see that there are many things that are not right, and are also sources of stress.”

When it comes to these high numbers, are things really getting worse or are people just more comfortable coming forward and seeking help for their mental health struggles these days?

“It’s both. We should not forget that the younger generation, people who are maybe adolescents or young adults were hit the hardest in the area of mental health by the Covid pandemic. A lot of things that should happen naturally just weren’t available. The beginning of their adult lives were tempered by isolation and this overall weirdness about the situation which was inherently dangerous for the whole of society.

“This is something we see in our practice, and we talk about it with our colleagues. Young people in elementary school, high school, university, and even young people just starting their careers or who may be taking these important steps in relationships like moving in together – it’s very different if you are suddenly forced to stay together with your new partner for two months. It had this impact on a day to day basis on so many lives.”

Is there any indication that’s showing stigma around mental health is improving across generations in Czechia?

“I think it’s improving amongst generations but also just overall in society. For example, I have clients who are 50 and are talking about things they had not talked about before. I think that this is an overall positive trend.

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“But it’s true there are areas where younger people are not willing to be tortured by some environmental factors. One thing young people are acutely aware of is the danger of burnout syndrome and work related stress. It’s something they actively work with and that they want to prevent and will negotiate against. This is a big difference between generations in my point of view.”

When it comes to access and being able to get mental health resources and assistance, is there enough provided by the government or in society for those who are seeking it out?

“There are significant bottlenecks, and we as professionals are trying to work through these bottlenecks. Of course there is education and certification, so generally there are things in place to make sure that clients get safe and high quality assistance. But at the same time it has to be balanced so that there are actually enough professionals able to provide this help.

“There are many professional organisations who are working through this, and there are definitely areas and regions in the Czech Republic that do not have sufficient numbers of professionals available, and that limits access because they may have to travel to have access to health care professionals and so on.”