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Loneliness is more pervasive than ever among Gen Z

According to the Prince’s Trust, young people’s overall happiness has reached an all-time low, with 30% reporting they do not know how to make friends and that they’ve never felt more alone.

Call me biased, but Gen Z is impressive in every respect.

They’re savvy consumers of information who are less prone to traffic in conspiracy theories, they’re on track to be the most well-educated generation to date, as champions of diversity and inclusion they won’t hesitate to call out injustice, and their political awareness, passion for social change, and activism is building a better future for us all.

But despite these copious attributes, a sizable cohort of them is also extremely lonely, which you may find surprising considering they’re digital natives with little or no memory of the world as it existed before smartphones.

Because, surely growing up more connected than ever, in contact with people 24/7, and always able to speak to someone at the click of a button would mean reduced feelings of isolation? Unfortunately not, according to several recent studies revealing the ugly truth about Gen Z’s overall happiness, which has hit the lowest point in more than a decade.

Firstly, it’s important we acknowledge that the internet itself is largely to blame.

Why Gen Z Is the Loneliest Generation…Ever? | KQED Education

In 2018, Cigna disclosed that almost 50% of the 12 to 22-year-olds it had surveyed for a report said their loneliness was brought on by the FOMO they’d experience when scrolling through apps like Instagram.

Evidently, the sense of community we get on platforms which allow us to interact with others, distance-aside, is no match for the negative impact on our wellbeing that a few hours of screen time can bring about when we can’t see those friends in person.

On that, it shouldn’t really shock you that the correlation between online communication and increased levels of mental health issues has been thoroughly investigated since the problem came to light.

And while solutions that don’t suggest ditching tech haven’t reared their heads quite yet, experts have begun encouraging Gen Zers to balance watching TikTok videos, poring over Reddit threads, and uploading Instagram stories with some good old-fashioned IRL encounters.

‘People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face,’ recommends Cigna.

Chart: Gen Z Is Lonely | Statista

Easier said than done, however.

Need I remind you of the Covid-19 outbreak? The one that’s caused global devastation, millions of deaths, economic strife, and unprecedented curbs on our freedom to be in each other’s presence.

The latter, our second and most pertinent contributor to the loneliness that’s been thrown onto Gen Z’s pile of pandemic-induced psychological distresses.

That’s according to the Prince’s Trust, which has just uncovered that even without lockdown restrictions in place, 40% of young people are now anxious about socialising, 35% have never felt more alone, and one third believe they do not know how to make friends.

It’s a sentiment echoed across the virtual realm, where you’ll find plenty of content raising awareness about this particular topic.

Gen Z: Lonely, Stressed Out and Taking Over the World | Media Release | The Communicator

‘I have people who love me and who care about me but it was so clear that I’m a Tier 2 or a Tier 3 friend and that resulted in me having to spend the last two years literally alone,’ reads a viral Tweet from not too long ago. ‘I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what did I do in my life that resulted in me being so lonely right now… I thought that I had cultivated a stronger community.’

Interestingly, this alludes to a wider trend whereby Gen Zers are, today, progressively more unwilling to rely on others for personal support, an outcome of the pandemic forcing us to reassess our priorities when it comes to what concerns are worth sharing.

But in the grand scheme of things, does any of this truly matter?

With loneliness a silent killer, as harmful to our bodies as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, it’s essential we confront its current pervasiveness as soon as possible – plain and simple.

‘We need public education that removes the stigma of loneliness and really tries to alleviate the shame because shame can also be self-defeating and cause you to avoid social situations or hide your true feelings in ways that make meaningful connections with others very hard’ says psychologist Richard Weissbourd. ‘Eliminating loneliness requires a robust social infrastructure. If every person who’s in pretty good shape can make a commitment to reaching out to one person they are concerned might be lonely once a week, that would be a good thing.’