April 13, 2024

My generation’s more interested in their mental health than their careers, and we’ll ALL pay a high price for it

Do you worry about the future? Are you irritable at times? Do you occasionally have trouble sleeping?

Then, according to at least one leading ‘mental-health influencer’, you might have clinical anxiety.

Peter Ruppert claims to be an ‘experienced growth and marketing professional’. He is not a doctor.

Yet one of his TikTok videos encouraging viewers to self-diagnose with this serious condition has attracted seven million views, 740,000 ‘likes’ and 46,000 comments.

Ruppert’s video is just one of hundreds if not thousands of highly questionable ‘self-assessment quizzes’ on the youth-oriented app purporting to diagnose every mental-health issue under the sun — from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to depression, mysophobia (fear of germs) and agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house).

An epidemic of mental illness is preventing thousands of young Britons from getting a job

An epidemic of mental illness is preventing thousands of young Britons from getting a job

Given this frantic climate of pathologising mental illness, perhaps we should not be surprised by the report on the front page of yesterday’s Mail — headlined ‘Generation Sicknote’ — warning that an epidemic of mental illness is preventing thousands of young Britons from getting a job.

According to the report by think-tank the Resolution Foundation, the number of 18 to 24-year-olds who are ‘economically inactive’ for health reasons has more than doubled in the past decade, leaping from 93,000 to 190,000.

In 2021/2022, the study found a third of this age group experienced ‘symptoms of mental illness’ — including depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder, up from a quarter at the turn of the millennium. And four in ten listed this as their main reason for not working.

I was born in 1997, making me one of the older members of ‘Gen Z’ (those born between roughly 1996-2012). And I’ve seen what the report describes for myself. Too many of my peers have called in sick to work because they’re having a ‘bad mental health day’. Some have lobbied their bosses to implement ‘duvet days’ — taken off for ‘self-care’ — in the working calendar. Others have resisted demands to return to the office five days a week, claiming it wouldn’t be good for their ‘work-life balance’ and might, worse still, affect their ‘mental wellbeing’.

Given its inevitable impact on the workplace, their colleagues and their careers, this behaviour is bad enough on its own terms. But as Professor Matthew Goodwin wrote in these pages last week, it is also devastating the economy.

Some 481,000 young people in Britain aged 16 to 24 are currently unemployed.

Of them, 280,000 now rely on some form of unemployment benefit: 50,000 more than before the pandemic and nearly twice as high as a decade ago.

Last year, Dragon’s’ Den judge Steven Bartlett, 31 — who became a millionaire aged just 23 as the founder of a social media marketing agency — sparked a social-media frenzy when he accused Gen Z of being ‘the least resilient generation’ he had ever seen.

The number of 18 to 24-year-olds who are ¿economically inactive¿ for health reasons has more than doubled in the past decade, leaping from 93,000 to 190,000

The number of 18 to 24-year-olds who are ‘economically inactive’ for health reasons has more than doubled in the past decade, leaping from 93,000 to 190,000

As a result of this boom in mental health diagnoses, huge numbers of young people are on medication. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds taking antidepressants in the UK rose from 440,000 in 2015-16 to 570,000 in 2021-22 — a rise of 31 per cent.

Of course, genuine mental health issues are serious and require appropriate treatment by professionals. And it is true some people are so badly affected they cannot hold down jobs.

Yet the recent explosion in claims of mental illness does little to counter the perception that too many people my age are just workshy, sensitive ‘snowflakes’.

So is an entire generation really too sad and anxious, too lacking in resilience to enter the workforce? Or is the problem more complicated?

Perhaps the key to this issue lies with parents, schools and universities.

It was reported last week that the fertility rate in England and Wales has dropped to its lowest since 1940.

A low birth rate, and parents having fewer offspring later in life, means many children are more cosseted than previous generations. And ‘helicopter parenting’ doesn’t end when youngsters head off to university, where traditionally they start to come to terms with living as adults.

Graduates these days leave institutions that have transformed in recent years from forums for lively debate to ones that over-protect and under-challenge their charges.

Take the claim that students at the University of Greenwich reading Dracula were given a ‘trigger warning’ that the masterpiece contained both ‘descriptions of spiders and other insects’.

Oxford University undergraduates studying Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales were notified this 600-year-old text might contain ‘racist and misogynistic views’. These young bookworms, supposedly some of the brightest in the land, were urged to seek support if they were troubled by the material.

Students are also increasingly protected from even learning about controversial views. Last year, Edinburgh University cancelled the screening of a film asserting that women are defined by biological sex, after trans-rights activists protested.

This is just one of countless examples the Mail has reported of universities mollifying activists in a bid to avoid offence. As a result, recent graduates have been steeped in so-called ‘safetyism’: the notion that nothing should upset them.

Little wonder, then, that when it comes to constructive criticism from managers or difficult conversations with colleagues, many simply lack the emotional resilience to cope. The same ‘safetyism’ also means that sadness and discomfort — inevitable parts of the human condition — are increasingly medicalised.

I know of people my age who have claimed to be ‘clinically depressed’ after a break-up. Others, nervous before an important exam, have announced they are suffering from an ‘anxiety disorder’.

While exams are stressful and break-ups are unpleasant, the fact is that they are normal, even character-building events. Too many have strayed far from that old adage: ‘What doesn’t kill makes you stronger.’ This generation’s motto could be: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.’

As that extraordinary video from Peter Ruppert shows, social media invariably makes all this worse. The average Gen Z-er has had a smartphone since he or she was 13.

And in a space where ‘sharing’ is everything — which, of course, can be a source of support for those suffering — you don’t have to look far on TikTok to find influencers discussing their ‘menty-b’ (slang for ‘mental breakdown’) or their ‘bed-rotting’ days — spent under their duvets for the sake of their mental health.

Where millennials once worshipped the ‘hustler’ mentality, two years ago the ‘quiet quitting’ trend sprang up on social media: doing the bare minimum at work to avoid getting sacked.

The hashtag ‘act your wage’ — meaning that your efforts should match your pay, no more or less — has 180 million views. Then there’s the ‘lazy girl job’ hashtag, under which Gen Z-ers brag about their low-stress, low-effort roles.

Some may ask whether it’s any wonder that so many young people are barely bothering to work given today’s stagnant wages, inadequate public services and soaring rents. But opting out of society is not the answer — not least because of the economic impact.

If Gen Z doesn’t get back into the workplace — fast — they may find things are about to get a whole lot worse.

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