Thanks to social media and a 24-hour news cycle have never been more awake or attuned to the injustices of the world or more compelled to fix them. But maybe this acute awareness of just how many global problems there are has made Gen Z less hopeful and more…depressed?
We’re an empowered lot these days, aware of our rights – ready to fight for them. Connected to the world, passionate about making it a better place.
After all, it’s fairly hard to get psyched about life when Trump is president, Boris is PM and the globe is slow-cooking its way to oblivion. Protest and re-post your activism all you like; it takes a lot of character to not feel fairly down about all that.
Indeed, statistics show that, instead of a defining feeling of hope among Gen Z, there is a groaning sense of pessimism – of hopelessness. Long running research from University College London, revealed earlier this year that depression levels are two-thirds higher than millennials. The study found 14.8 per cent of 14-year-olds in 2015 said they were depressed, compared to 9 per cent in 2005. While 14.4 per cent of young people said they had self-harmed, compared to 11.8 per cent a decade ago.
This depression has impacted more than just a spike in mental health issues – it is causing a generational confidence deficit. A survey in 2017 by Universum, showed that 33% of Gen Z said they lacked the confidence to lead. It’s contrary to the perceived view of Gen Z – as a generation that was told they could do and be whatever they wanted to. Instead of boundless optimistic confidence, the reality seems to be an overwhelming sense of, well, what’s the point?
A report by Deloitte earlier this year on generational attitudes shows pessimism at an all-time low. Less than 40% of Gen Z are positive about the future.
A bleak view of the future is directly linked to an undeniably bleak future. For example; take the gloomiest of issues that Gen Z has made one of their pet projects: climate change. Here, the end goal is not social justice or challenging oppression but actual survival. As the oft-used saying goes – there is no Planet B.
“I don’t even think I want to have kids,” says Amy, 22, about looking to the future, “Given everything that is happening with climate change, it just feels so irresponsible.”
Climate change has been so inefficiently dealt with by governments that the outlook for planetary survival is a grim view. This is, of course, just the latest in a groaning line of issues plaguing Gen Z: it’s hard to deny the impact of growing up in the shadow of 9/11, of the credit and housing crisis, of austerity and inequality. Gen Z are – famously – the first generation to be worse off than their parents.
“I feel like Gen Z and millennials occupy a really interesting place in politics,” says Nogia, 20 “- we’ve only known austerity, we’ve only know casual work, we’ve only know life long sentences of debt for getting an education and we’re living in an age of populism and hatred in politics.”
So, is this having a detrimental effect on a generation’s mental health and personal confidence? Pretty much.
“Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems among young people,” says Sarah Faithfull. Youth Engagement Officer at YoungMinds, “Young people today have to navigate a huge range of pressures, from school or university stress, to worries over their career and housing prospects, to the rise of social media, which can make problems like bullying or body image issues more intense than they were in the past.”
Social media is – predictably – a major cause of generational anxiety. Not only is it connecting us to the world’s most depressing news stories, it is also connecting us to a plethora of airbrushed, Facetuned accounts making us feel terrible about ourselves. No wonder confidence is low.
Yet with Instagram trialling a removal of likes and with renewed discussion about the negative mental health ramifications of social media; we should hope that a turning point could be on its way. So what other ways can Gen Z get their empowerment up and their confidence soaring?
“Feeling concerned about the future is understandable, but it’s also important to think about your own wellbeing and take steps to improve it,” says Sarah Faithfull, “Acknowledge your feelings, and speak to someone you trust about anything that’s worrying you. While it can be easy to fall prey to negative thoughts, try your best to keep things in perspective. If you’re really struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to pay a visit to your GP, who can offer you further help.”
As sharp as this drop in confidence is, all is not lost. Activism is on the rise. Mad as hell Gen Z-ers are just not going to take any BS anymore.
There’s a simmering undercurrent of hope beneath Gen Z – a generation willing to take a stand on anything and everything, from climate change to equal pay. Gen Z may have little confidence in themselves or the future of the planet, but their passion for protest shows they are not going down without a fight.