My generation is miserable. Gen Z, those of us born after 1997, are the saddest, loneliest, and most mentally fragile age group to date, cursed with rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. How can that be? How can a generation with everything feel so desperately unhappy? By almost every metric, human life is dramatically better today than it ever has been. The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from around 90 percent in 1820 to just 10 percent in 2015, while rates of illiteracy, mortality, and battle deaths are also in rapid decline. For the most part, Gen Z are heirs to an immense fortune: a utopian world of instant gratification and technological dynamism. In theory, this should be the age of happiness.
And yet, misery abounds. In the United States, 54 percent of Gen Z report anxiety and nervousness, according to researchers at the American Psychological Association. This is compared with only 40 percent of millennials and a national average of 34 percent. It isn’t just a case of self-report bias either, since the suicide rate for Americans aged between 15 and 24 has risen by over 51 percent in the last decade. For Gen Z women in particular, suicide rates have risen a staggering 87 percent since 2007. In my home country of the UK, one in four girls is clinically depressed by the time they are 14.
There’s no shortage of articles trying to make sense of the mental health epidemic at a time of such global prosperity. Teens and pre-teens today, we’re told, are simply interred beneath the weight of political issues like climate change, immigration, and sexual assault, as well as fatigued by job stress, exam burnout, and the attainment of unrealistic social media standards. The antidote, many suggest, lies in practicing better “self-care,” from daily gratitude journaling to adopting a 38-step skincare routine. And it’s a popular remedy. Since the pandemic began, online searches for “self-care” have risen 250 percent, with schools, universities, and employers turning to compulsory wellness programmes like mindfulness training and meditation sessions to improve mental health.