McKinsey Health Institute

Heat waves, the war in Ukraine, and stigma: Gen Z’s perspectives on mental health

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For all the emphasis many societies place on youth, it’s a difficult time to be young. In May 2022, the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) surveyed 6,000 Generation Z respondents in ten European countries to understand their perspectives on mental health, particularly in the context of an unprecedented moment of global and regional crises.1 What MHI found was consistent with what respondents in the United States said in January 2022: Gen Z reports poorer mental health when compared with older generations, including millennials. At play are specific external triggers: nearly half of Gen Z respondents cite a high level of distress due to climate change, while 41 percent list distress related to the war in Ukraine. More than a fourth said COVID-19 caused them high distress.

Gen Z respondents, however, appear to have a more nuanced framework around the stigma surrounding mental illness.2 In Europe, Gen Z seems less inclined to stigmatize or discriminate against people with mental illness, even though they do stigmatize themselves. Negative attitudes around mental illnesses, aimed at oneself or others, can prevent people from discussing their mental-health conditions (for more on stigma, see sidebar “Defining stigma”).

The personal, professional, and educational networks serving Gen Z in Europe can benefit from a better understanding of specific challenges facing this generation. To that end, in the exhibits below, we share more of what European Gen Z respondents cite as their primary mental-health concerns, as well as some potential paths to offer better support (for more on the methodology, see sidebar “Methodology”).

In most surveyed countries, more Gen Z respondents report poor and worsening mental health than those in other generations

An unprecedented moment of global and regional crises is contributing to the distress of Gen Z

More Gen Z respondents report a high level of distress because of global change and the war in Ukraine than due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gen Z respondents are understanding of someone with a mental-health condition

Gen Z respondents are most comfortable talking with a friend about their mental-health conditions

Gen Z is more likely to talk about their mental-health conditions to their friends and to their doctors or therapists than with any other sources of support.

Schools can facilitate dialogue on mental health among Gen Z

Employers also have a role to play in Gen Z mental health

Behavioral-health resources from a future employer are considered important by many Gen Z respondents.

By highlighting valued tools, such as digital self-help or peer counselors, leaders can show they understand the importance Gen Z places on their mental health.

Gen Z mental health should be a priority

In all ten countries, the survey shows those entering the adult stage of their lives are facing stressful personal and global events with trepidation but hope. Gen Z reflects the next cohort of future teachers, executives, advocates, and parents. It may fall to them one day to shape the path for the world they want to live in. But no one is alone: all stakeholders can benefit from recognizing what respondents are saying about their lives, and then consider concrete tactics that can offer immediate help. By highlighting valued tools, such as digital self-help or peer counselors, leaders can show they understand the importance Gen Z places on their mental health. All of us can be of service in the challenges that lay ahead.

Young woman talks with therapist

Addressing the unprecedented behavioral-health challenges facing Generation Z

Ultimately, no matter the age, mental-health supports create meaningful differences for individuals and institutions. The McKinsey Health Institute shares a core belief that promotion, prevention, and early intervention to support mental health are key to adding years to life and life to years.

MHI is an enduring, non-profit-generating global entity within McKinsey. MHI strives to catalyze actions across continents, sectors, and communities to achieve material improvements in health, empowering people to lead their best possible lives. MHI sees supporting youth mental health as essential to adding years to life and life to years.

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