In tandem with World Mental Health Day, a new study by Sandpiper Communications – a global strategic communications consultancy – finds those in Generation Z (Gen Z) across Asia Pacific (APAC) are putting on a brave face amid COVID-19, with most focusing on betterment but still struggling to talk about their mental health, despite rising pressures.
Titled ‘The Brave Face of Gen Z’, the study is based on a survey of 1,226 Gen Zs – aged 18 to 24 years – across APAC in Australia, China, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
It reveals 73 per cent of Gen Zs across APAC are experiencing elevated stress levels due to COVID-19, and 57 per cent say their mental health has worsened.
Additionally, nearly four in five (79 per cent) face overwhelming stress monthly or more frequently, with 28 per cent experiencing this weekly, and 11 per cent daily.
However, in spite of this, only 41 per cent of Gen Zs across APAC are comfortable talking about their mental health.
Family and the economy are the greatest sources of pressure
When looking at the sources of overwhelming stress for Gen Z across APAC, family pressures (65 per cent) followed by career pressures (48 per cent) and relationships with friends (41 per cent) rank highest.
Furthermore, the study finds the economic and lifestyle impacts of COVID-19 have had a more negative effect on the mental health and wellbeing of Gen Z than health-related ones.
71 per cent of Gen Zs say the economic fallout of COVID-19 has negatively affected their mental health and well-being, followed by travel bans at 68 per cent.
These rank ahead of concerns about friends and family being infected with COVID-19 (62 per cent) or themselves being infected (58 per cent).
The social dilemma
During a crisis, having access to social media has been seen as both a blessing and a curse for Gen Z. Across all markets, while nearly one quarter (24 per cent) say social media has helped their mental health and well-being during COVID-19, more than one third (34 per cent) feel it has had a negative influence.
Of those who believe social media has had a positive impact, 69 per cent attribute this to being able to connect with family and friends. Two in three (66 per cent) feel social media has been a source of distraction to pass time, with 66 per cent citing increased boredom during COVID-19.
Interestingly, of those who feel positively, 59 per cent say this is because it is a source of news for them. However, the influx of negative stories (61 per cent) on social platforms is also the biggest reason Gen Z in APAC cite for believing social media access has negatively affected them.
Additionally, of those who feel negatively, close to half (48 per cent) across APAC say the lack of real connection with friends and loved ones has in fact worsened their mental health and wellbeing.
Almost two in five (38 per cent) also expressed that social media has inadvertently pressured them to be constantly “busy” despite feeling negative about the pandemic situation.
Focusing on betterment
Despite the increased pressures on mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19, a culture of betterment is seen with Gen Zs making responsible decisions about their future and many seeking professional support where needed.
When asked about how the pandemic has altered their future plans, close to half (46 per cent) have increased their focus on savings. Almost one-third (30 per cent) have also increased their commitments to studying and decided to learn a new skill during this period.
“Our young people are among those who have been the most impacted by COVID-19, and they will need to live with the huge social and economic impacts for many years to come during the prime of their lives and careers. As we mark World Mental Health Day, it’s important we understand how the pandemic is affecting them and what opportunities exist for better communication and support,” said Emma Smith, CEO of Sandpiper Communications.
“It is concerning that despite Gen Zs suffering increased mental health and wellbeing pressures during COVID-19, they still struggle to talk about these issues. While the increasing focus on betterment can be seen as a positive outtake from COVID-19, there’s also a risk that without strong communications, openness and transparency around mental wellbeing, it may mask deeper issues,” she added.