GEN - Zzzzzz

“The beardless youth… does not foresee what is useful, squandering his money.”

Horace The Art of Poetry: An Epistle to the Pisos

It’s a rite of passage for any new generation to be labelled lazy and feckless by their elders and Gen-Z is no exception. Newly released figures show nearly three million Brits under 25 are ‘inactive, with Z-ers joking on TikTok about enjoying their extended holiday. One boasted, ‘Today I’m going to be drinking at 2pm in the afternoon’. Another revealed that with weekly unemployment benefits of over one thousand pounds (P15k), there was no economic benefit to finding work – she has a point. It’s a question often asked but never properly answered, much less addressed, as to why the government is so generous to the bone idle, especially considering there are more than 900,000 unfilled vacancies in the country. This leads to recruitment of foreign workers to fill the gap in mostly unskilled labour, which is simply economic insanity. Shock statistics reveal that more people under 25 are now ‘economically inactive’ than ever before – increasing by about 700,000 since the Covid pandemic. Cue accusations about work-shy snowflakes and generation sick note.

However, more worryingly is the news that they are more likely to be out of work because of mental health problems. One in three 18- to 24-year-olds in Britain now report symptoms indicating they have experienced a common mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety disorder, compared with one in four in 2000.

This figure was reached after a three-year research programme by the Resolution Foundation think-tank, funded by the Health Foundation charity. The researchers analysed data to track answers to questions about symptoms such as difficulties with sleep. The finding is backed up by evidence of high levels of mental ill health among young people. According to Charlie McCurdy, one of the report’s authors. “There are lots more young people being prescribed antidepressants,” he said, “as well as increases in self-harm, particularly for young adolescent women, and an increase in disability claims from young people.”

So why would this be? Part of the answer might lie in greater recognition of the signs of mental ill health, now that there is less stigma in admitting a problem; yet there is almost certainly some truth to the accusation that young people are less resilient, perhaps because of changes in parenting styles or schooling, or other external factors? Or has the world just changed so rapidly that it has become more confusing and uncertain, more brutish, perhaps even a nastier place, and the new generations are bearing the brunt?

Amongst the oft-cited list of potential culprits are the cost of living crisis, the Covid lockdowns, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the long-term effects of austerity, the climate crisis, pressure in schools, prejudice against minorities, the rise of social media and smart-phones, and the growing complexity of modern life. However, these are rejected by Nil Guzelgun, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind. “Mental health problems amongst young people have been increasing before the pandemic,” said. “We saw a starker increase in 2017. So, this isn’t simply because of the pandemic. We know that people with mental health problems find themselves stuck in low paid, insecure work. After the financial crisis we saw an increase in mental health problems immediately afterwards. We really need a concerted effort to address public mental health needs.”

Gen Z employees are missing the equivalent of a day’s work every week due to mental health concerns; new research has shown. Figures reveal that the average office worker feels like they can’t work properly due to their mental health for 50 workdays per year with a cost to the British economy of an estimated P2000 billion a year. Leave: is by health insurance firm Vitality into sick leave found that only 6 of these 50 days were taken off completely as sick leave; often, staff that did come to work but struggled to achieve anything in the office. These performance issues were linked to poor mental health, including burnout, stress, insomnia and obesity. Vitality surveyed 4,000 employees and their employers on the time lost due to both absences as well as how ‘present’ staff were at work. But the results showed those under 30 are more likely to report bad productivity at work compared to older generations, reporting 60 lost productive days due to health concerns versus just 36 days for those aged 50 and over.

The research also found that younger employees were twice as likely to suffer from depression and showed higher levels of burnout and tiredness than their older co-workers.
So, what are to make of the research? We know from other sources that university students demand safe spaces, not to protect them from physical abuse but simply quiet places where they can avoid the spoken and written word, lest it offends or upsets them: Yet the whole point of a university education, as opposed to a further education or training college, is to open young minds to new possibilities and inculcate an environment where they can learn and grow and even contribute to the knowledge pool; similarly they demand trigger warnings on works of literature, rather than coming to them with an open mind and drawing their conclusions on the content after they’ve personally ingested it; and they will mount campaigns to block certain guest speakers if they feel their view of the world does not align with theirs, where previous generations would have relished the opportunity to listen to arguments and challenge those differences where they clashed.

Now transpose those baseless fears into the workplace where newbies are expected to take orders and carry out instructions, whether the task is to their liking or not. This now challenges the view of the world as they’ve seen it almost since birth, owing to what is termed ‘helicopter’ parenting – constant hovering and over-protectiveness.

Though generational differences are inevitable and to a large extent, healthy, there seems to be something else going on here and it’s extremely unhealthy in terms of mental health. There’s the problem and much of the answer lies in the home – parents, please lose the cotton wool. It’s getting in your kids’ eyes, and they just can’t see straight!