Generation Z: An Increasingly Sad and Anxious Generation

Young people are increasingly unhappy and exhibiting greater mental health problems. What's behind this reality?
Generation Z: An Increasingly Sad and Anxious Generation
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Generation Z …boys and girls born in the 21st century. They’re digital natives who see new technologies as their way of understanding and managing the world. They were also all born in the 21st century with all that implies. For instance, uncertainty, social changes, scientific advances, and even a pandemic.

If there’s one thing that appears to define this new generation of young people, it’s their problems with mental health. In fact, despite belonging to a population that’s more connected than ever with others, they feel more alone than ever. On the other hand, naturally, there are exceptions and many are defined by a youthful enthusiasm full of dreams, strengths, and happiness.

However, we can’t ignore the obvious reality. Last year, the Mental Health Million Project was published, a report that provides scientific data on the mental well-being of the world’s population. The conclusions couldn’t be clearer. 44 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 exhibited serious psychological problems.

Young people experience great social pressure, both academically and at work. In addition, social media often has a great negative impact on them.

Teenage girl symbolizing Generation Z
Teenagers have more negative and obsessive thoughts than previous generations.

What’s happening with generation Z?

According to experts, the mental health fallout of Covid 19 could be the fourth wave of the pandemic, affecting the younger population to a greater degree.

However, many of these problems were already lying dormant in more than one adolescent or young adult. The circumstances of the pandemic only increased a buried reality. Could we perhaps be facing the best-prepared yet unhappiest generation? The answer is more complex than you might think. Let’s take a look.

Apathy as a response to academic and work frustration

The young people of Generation Z, like millennials, are wildly frustrated. Indeed, both generations were educated in the idea that every effort had its benefit and reward. Nevertheless, having excellent training doesn’t necessarily mean they find a job that matches their skills. In fact, in general, the labor market for young people is precarious.

Many of these young people born between 1995 and 2000 feel high academic and work anxiety. They’re extremely demanding, creative, and committed, but know that the world doesn’t offer an adequate response to their needs. Furthermore, it’s highly likely that the situation won’t improve in the future. This ends up generating feelings of apathy and disaffection.

Generation Z assumes that the future that awaits them isn’t as bright as they were promised. In fact, they know that they’ll probably end up worse off than their parents.

The impact of understanding the world (and themselves) through social media

Nowadays, the construction of the “I” of every child and adolescent is also nourished by the digital world. In other words, the image they have of themselves has a direct relationship with social media. It’s in this environment that they look for their daily reinforcements, compare themselves and begin, in many cases, to hate their bodies or yearn for other lives that are extremely different from their own.

The University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (Germany) conducted research that claims the intensive use of social media increases stress, procrastination, and problems with emotional regulation.

There’s another obvious problem. Although the new technologies appear to make it easier for adolescents to connect with each other, in reality, they foster clearly distorted relationships. Indeed, young people feel increasingly isolated and it’s common for many of them to have suffered some form of online harassment.

An emotionally unprepared generation

Therefore, it appears that generation Z has poor skills in emotional matters. However, does this mean that previous generations were more skilled? Not necessarily, as, in reality, people in their 40s or 50s grew up in a really different context than teenagers today.

Perhaps the problem is, in part, the overprotection they receive from their parents. The kind who hover over their children satisfying their every need, making life easy for them, and responding to their every demand. They tend to further ‘weaken’ the character of this new generation.

Hence, these children grow up with little resistance to frustration. Furthermore, they live in a society increasingly dominated by immediacy. The “I want it now” attitude means they get bored quickly and fail to develop adequate emotional self-regulation.

Mother and daughter face the problems of Generation Z
Despite the fact that today, we talk more about mental health, we still don’t give adequate assistance to those who need it.

Individualism and Generation Z

Generation Z has been raised in an increasingly individualistic and polarized social context. It’s also true that narcissistic behavior is becoming more and more frequent. The cult of the self, of satisfying one’s own needs, and obtaining what one wants in the present moment at all costs, attacking the other, seems to be a constant today.

Social networks are also catalysts for problems of values and fierce individualism. Relationships are increasingly fluid, they expire quickly, and other relationships are sought at the click of a button. It’s not hard to understand why Generation Z feels empty, hopeless, and anxious. They find it hard to source resources and support when they need help.

While it’s a good idea to make mental health problems visible, normalizing them and not providing an answer for them isn’t so beneficial. In fact, the sadness and disaffection of our young people are, to a large extent, the result of our failure as a society.

Profound change is needed. Above all, to expand and improve our psychological assistance services.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Kessler, R.C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K.R., and Walters, E.E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry 62(6), 593-602. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593.
  • Varma, P., Junge, M., Meaklim, H., and Jackson, M.L. (2020). Younger people are more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression during COVID-19 pandemic: A global cross-sectional survey. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 109, 110236. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2020.110236.
  • Wartberg, Lutz & Thomasius, Rainer & Paschke, Kerstin. (2021). The relevance of emotion regulation, procrastination, and perceived stress for problematic social media use in a representative sample of children and adolescents. Computers in Human Behavior. 121. 106788. 10.1016/j.chb.2021.106788.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.