erika kessel
erika kessel 9 October 2020

Generation Anxious – Or Are They?

From selfies to support, Gen Z are coping with the impact of social media better than we think. Today ZAK , the Next Generation Agency launches their new study 'Generation Anxious'. We examined how Gen Z are destigmatizing the mental health conversation by refusing to sanitize it.

From Discord to TikTok, young people are using digital spaces to find solidarity, vulnerability, humour and hope. The key issue for brands is how to be of use in the conversations rather than appear to be virtue signaling. Interpreting the apparent openness on the subject matter of a Gen Z Audience is not an invitation. It’s way more complex than that. 

57% agree that media representation of social media is unfair in context of mental health

Nearly half use social media to be part of a community

Over a third say they are a more resilient generation because they are more connected and use social media to support each other

A recently released study looks to challenge the popular rhetoric that the internet and social media are the main reason behind Gen Z’s mental health issues.

Gen Zers are the most empowered generation of all time – they have grown up on the wave of social media where acceptance is the currency of choice. And yet, they are the unhappiest generation yet. Research from UCL reveals depression levels amongst Gen Zers are the two thirds higher than Millennials – we know something in modern life is undermining their mental health and media tells us it’s the internet.

However a study released by ZAK the Next Generation Agency ( challenges this thinking with 57% saying that the media representation of social media is unfair in the context of mental health issues, and 42% agreeing that the reputation of social media is outdated. 
Instead this generation are using digital spaces to find solidarity, vulnerability, humour and hope. With 54% of 18-24 year olds admitting to getting lonely, they feel condemning the internet for creating an anti social generation is wrong, supported by almost half (49%) saying they use it to be part of a community. Social media both commodifies their loneliness and offers them a cure.

With their usage on social running flat, or even in decline some Gen Z’ers have lost interest in how mass mainstream social has become, preferring to retreat to micro communities. In ZAK’s recent survey Gen Z said they prefer to talk in private message threads rather than open forums and feeds where they can share more openly. Whilst this isn’t a space in which brands can typically play, there is a way to carve into this culture.  Brands are feeling vulnerable amidst the pressure to move at the speed of culture, but be warned Gen Z would prefer long term commitment to one thing, rather than a finger in every pie.

"Mainstream media attributes a lot of negative outcomes to social media without realising how much good it is doing. It’s here to stay as a medium, it will change form and format, but it’s not going anywhere. As the first generation of social natives, Gen Z communities use online (and offline) communities in a way that is useful to them, it’s a means of expression and finding like-minded people to share thoughts and feelings with, it’s not just another broadcast media to them. The key issue for brands is how to be of use in the conversations rather than appear to be virtue signaling. Interpreting the apparent openness on the subject matter of a Gen Z audience is not an invitation. It’s way more complex than that." Matt Bennett CCO ZAK.

Gen Z believe that they are a resilient generation and can face adversity better than most. Social media, they believe, is key to that. Almost a third attribute it to the fact they use social media to support each other and as a coping mechanism and 35% believing it is because they are more connected to each other. Not only that they believe their resilience is born out of being confident to expose the real them, with 40% saying they are more resilient from exposing the good and the bad, and 1 in 5 agreeing they are happy to be vulnerable and put themselves out there.
The argument that social media is obliquely bad for your mental health feels paper thin compared to the complex human communities that exist online. With Generation Z coping better than we think, Brands’ efforts to insert themselves into this generational shift will just require significant sensitivity.

To watch the film: https: b//



In a landscape saturated with shallow mental health content, what can set brands apart in the minds of Gen Z’ers?

Learn That Words Matter

Those who don’t suffer often don’t realise the importance of language when talking about mental health issues. Ensure you’re embracing gestures like “trigger warnings” when sharing sensitive content online, or normalizing the use of pronouns. Paying more attention to the words we use and how we use them (like not using “crazy” to mean mentally ill) creates an environment that young people trust and feel comfortable in.

Embrace Imperfection

Demonstrating realistic imperfection and engaging in activism without a veneer of false positivity is incredibly valuable to Gen Z’ers. Whether that’s rejecting retouching, having inclusive campaigns or being transparent about the process, from design to production, acknowledging both brands and humans don’t arrive on earth as finished projects helps young people feel more reassured about their journey.

Help Make Treatment Accessible

As mental health disorders surge, the outdated therapy sector is diversifying to address the vulnerabilities of the next generation. Getting an appointment with a therapist in person can be incredibly difficult, but there’s been a wide advancement in the accessibility of mental health support online. Brand partnerships with mental health apps can raise awareness and ensure help is closer than ever. For example, Headspace partnered with Hyatt to unlock a collection of meditation and sleep therapy sessions free to the general public titled “Weathering the Storm.”

Trust Gen Z Creators

TikTok is a pioneer in the social media ecology, especially when it comes to mental health. Too many mental health campaigns aimed at Gen Z’ers repeat tired tropes about life not being picture perfect. Brands could give a platform to the young creators refreshing the dialogue, supporting their work and championing new relevant voices. Letting Gen Z’ers take the reins on intensely personal subjects empowers them and rejuvenates old formats.

Look After Your Own

Many organisations and brands have pivoted to prioritising mental health amongst their employees during the Covid crisis, and it’s not something that should stop. Allowing mental health days to be classed as sick days, ensuring flexible working or providing access to therapy are measures that attract Gen Z’ers (as workers and consumers) to certain brands.

Educate Us

Brands can use their platform to increase the health literacy of their followers. Increasing the public understanding of mental illness, especially in terms of early detection and intervention, is an incredibly important role that can be played outside of mental health awareness month.

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