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Is the mental health of gen Z at risk?

By Alma Fabiani

Oct 10, 2020

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Not so long ago, many worried about the future of millennials—and for good reasons. Were they ever going to be able to afford a house? Probably not. What about love, would they find it in the end? I am not one to make any assumptions but it certainly looked like it was going to be a rough ride for them. Okay, last shot then: were millennials going to survive, and perhaps even tackle, burnout once and for all? The answer to this question remains debatable.

But now, especially today on World Mental Health Day, the focus has shifted from millennials to gen Zers. In the middle of a pandemic, it’s only normal for us to worry about the younger generations, and it looks like gen Z is in the eye of the storm. With anxiety levels rising at an unprecedented speed and social media platforms doing little to boost our confidence, times are hard, to say the least. Could the mental health of gen Z truly be at risk?

In order to find out, I’ve asked for some help from the gen Z live platform Yubo, who shared with its users a few of my questions. The poll was conducted this month on 12,000 British gen Zers aged between 13 and 25 years old. In other words, I managed to speak to just the right audience. Here’s how they feel at the moment and what they had to say about the current state of their mental health.

Gen Z and depression

60 per cent of the participants reported experiencing feelings of depression during this year’s pandemic. I mean, that should have been expected. Mixing isolation with a media overflow of bad and scary news has never been defined as the perfect environment for happiness and blossoming but 60 per cent is a worrying statistic.

There is a major mental health crisis on the horizon and it’s about to hit gen Zers the hardest. While some have argued that these trends are not real, but instead reflect this generation’s greater openness about their mental health symptoms, there is actual evidence that these numbers reflect a disturbing reality.

After all, it’s hard to argue that the increased rates of suicide attempts and completed suicide are a self-reporting bias.

Gen Z and anxiety

2 in 5 British gen Zers report being anxious at this time. Again, not mind-blowing at first glance—name me one person who doesn’t know someone who’s feeling anxious about the coronavirus pandemic. However, with this in mind, it’s important that we don’t sweep gen Z’s anxiety under the rug under the excuse that literally everyone is anxious right now.

Unlike previous generations, gen Z doesn’t live by the motto ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Instead, it is led to believe that if they encounter something that is offensive to them or something that worries them, they would then be made weaker by it.

Gen Zers see themselves as the fragile protagonists in a battle against evil. These beliefs set us up for depression and anxiety, and all those feelings are only exacerbated by COVID-19.

Gen Z and social media

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: social media. While, so far, my findings have been quite negative and worrying, when it comes to social media, gen Zers seem to be keeping a positive outlook. According to Yubo’s research, 1 in 5 British gen Zers believe that social media can help improve mental health and wellbeing.

As much as I’d like to list the many negative impacts of social media on our mental health, I cannot deny that it also represents some important positives. Not only does it help younger generations develop critical thinking, social media provides a sense of community. I’m not saying that it is a completely safe space but at least, when we were all stuck indoors for months, we had Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to turn to when in need of social interactions.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen during the recent Black Lives Matter movement that followed the death of George Floyd, social media also provided gen Zers with a voice and an incredible reach. Shadowbanned or not, we still managed to use those platforms to our advantage.

Gen Z and cancel culture

Of course, there’s no quick or easy fix for addressing the challenges that gen Zers face. Coming from millennials and older generations, more understanding and conversations might help but in the end, it comes down to us and our generation to strive for change. And what better way to start doing so than by tackling cancel culture?

42 per cent of gen Zers don’t believe that it’s right to cancel people. On top of that, 1 in 2 British gen Zers have admitted that the fear of being cancelled gives them anxiety, with 18 per cent of respondents reporting that they have stopped posting photos online due to this fear. So, while this may not be the solution to all of our problems, cancelling cancel culture might be the first step towards a healthier future for gen Z. And who knows, we might even feel less anxious about COVID-19, Trump and our planet because of it?