Gen Z and Loneliness
Fri 29 Apr 2022
Gen Z and Loneliness
Loneliness is the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness week in May. Loneliness has been defined as “a negative emotion associated with a perceived gap between the quality and quantity of relationships that we have and those we want.”
(Perlman, D, Peplau L. (1981) Toward a Social Psychology of Loneliness. Personal Relationships 3: Personal Relationships in Disorder, Pp. 31–43.)
There are lots of statistics on how damaging loneliness is to our physical and mental health. It is seen as the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and raises our blood pressure. It increases our risk of dementia and depression. But the thing I find most interesting in what I am reading, is that no longer is this seen as an emotion experienced only by older people who live alone but that it is also an emotion experienced by younger people too.
A survey by Action for Children found that 43% of 17 – 25 year olds who used their service had experienced problems with loneliness. This is the very group of people who have also really struggled through Covid. Our Generation Z. For this group Covid is viewed as a “Generational Defining Moment”. It occurred at their coming of age, which means they are old enough to have experienced it fully, feeling the fear and uncertainty, and young enough for it to have impacted and changed their views and beliefs. Their A levels were canceled, their gap years cut short, their courses went online, there were no part time jobs, no parties, no dating, no Freshers weeks. This generation either stayed at home with their families or moved out into one bed apartments. They worried about the health of their grandparents and parents, they grieved the loss of “their time”, they increased their screen time. They became lonely.
Loneliness is all about relationships. The quality and quantity. It's also about connection. If we feel connected to something other than ourselves then we will also feel less lonely. A connection to movement, religion, nature, music, reading, creating, anything. We feel lonely when we feel lost. Disconnected from the world and everything in it. When we feel lonely we start to distrust the world. We don’t always see the hand that reaches out to connect with us. We shun it and fear it.
So if you are one of the nearly 50% of Gen Z who feel lonely, know that you are not alone. We know why you feel lonely. Your connections have been lost and relationships have not been formed. But it’s ok. Now is the time to start to come out of that loneliness. It can be scary but if we do it one small step at a time we will get there.
Can you think of something that you used to enjoy? Can you think of something that makes you smile? Have you a safe place you used to enjoy visiting? Is there a friend that you used to spend time with? When we are coming back out of loneliness, it is good to start with the easy wins. The things we still have positive emotional memories attached to. When our mind realises that these things still exist and that they still feel good then we can start to expand our world further. The list of things missing from a Gen Z life are mostly a list of new experiences. The fun and excitement is because they are new. We are learning to be fully fledged adults, flying our nest. Now is the time when we can start to make plans again. Think about those steps we would like to take. Find the connections we want to make. If you need some help then please ask. You don’t need to feel alone anymore.
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