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Heat waves, the war in Ukraine, and stigma: Generation Z perspectives on mental health

per focus Many societies put it on young people, it’s a tough time being young. In May 2022, the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI) surveyed 6,000 Generation Z participants in ten European countries to understand their views on mental health, particularly in the context of an unprecedented moment of global and regional crises.

What MHI found was consistent with what US respondents said in January 2022: Generation Z reported poorer mental health compared to older generations, including millennials. There are specific external triggers: nearly half of Generation Z respondents report a high level of distress due to climate change, while 41% cited ordeal related to the war in Ukraine. More than a quarter of them said that COVID-19 had caused them great suffering.

However, Generation Z respondents appear to have a more nuanced framework around the stigma surrounding mental illness.

In Europe, Generation Z seems less inclined to stigmatize or discriminate against people with mental illness, even though they stigmatize themselves. Negative attitudes about mental illness, directed at self or others, can prevent people from discussing their mental health conditions (for more information on stigma, see the ‘Defining stigma’ sidebar).

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

In most of the countries surveyed, more respondents from Generation Z reported poorer mental health and deterioration than those of other generations.

Nearly one in five participants from Generation Z in Europe reported having poor or very poor mental health, which is more than any other generation, and five times more than that of the baby boomers. In the US Gen Z survey, one in four participants reported being emotionally distressed. More women from Generation Z in Europe report poor mental health than their male counterparts.

One in four Generation Z participants reported deteriorating mental health within the past three years. This trend is also higher for Generation Z than for any other generation.

Physical health is the only dimension in which Generation Z does not report the highest rate of poor or severe health condition.

An unprecedented moment of global and regional crises is contributing to the plight of Generation Z.

47 percent of Generation Z respondents reported high levels of distress due to global climate change, 41 percent due to the war in Ukraine, and 28 percent due to COVID-19.

The level of severity varies by country:

  • A higher proportion of Gen Z Turks, Spaniards, and Italians surveyed reported distress due to global climate change than their other European counterparts.
  • Survey respondents reported the Turks with the highest levels of tension due to the war in Ukraine. Additionally, across all 10 countries, 55 percent of Generation Z respondents who self-identified as refugees or asylum seekers reported high levels of distress due to the war in Ukraine, compared to 40 percent for other respondents.
  • Italian Generation Z survey respondents reported the highest levels of stress due to COVID-19.

‘Generation Z’ respondents understand someone with a mental health condition

About 47 percent of Generation Z respondents with mental illness endorse feelings of self-stigmatization, which is lower than Millennials (52 percent) but more than Generation X (42 percent) and Generation 2 (29 percent). Generation Z respondents are more likely to say that mental illness is the result of poor upbringing or a character defect.

However, these negative perceptions of mental illness do not appear to lead to negative attitudes toward people recovering from mental illness: two out of three Generation Z respondents would be willing to continue the relationship with a friend recovering from mental illness, and more than half say they would live with someone recovering.

While Generation Z respondents reported high rates of self-stigma and social stigma, this may not discourage their desire to discuss their mental health with others or their acceptance of people with mental illness.

Generation Z respondents feel more comfortable talking with a friend about their mental health conditions

Only 37 percent of Generation Z respondents reported that they would be comfortable talking about their mental health conditions with a family member, compared to about 50 percent for other generations.

An average of 44 percent of Generation Z respondents said they would be comfortable talking to a doctor or therapist. Nearly half say they would be comfortable talking with a friend about their mental health conditions.

Less than a third of respondents reported being comfortable talking about their mental health conditions with colleagues or work supervisors; For generation Z, the number is even lower. This suggests that employers may want to consider how younger workers perceive job acceptance.

Schools can facilitate dialogue about mental health among Generation Z.

Between 70 and 89 percent of respondents who are Generation Z students report that their schools provide resources for behavioral health, but there is room for improvement, with nearly 30 percent saying either the school does not provide the resources or they don’t know if or what resources are available at the school.

Generation Z respondents reported using more digital behavioral health resources in their school such as telehealth and app-based resources. However, they also say that these are less useful than online mental health training and in-person resources such as peer support networks, workshops on dealing with behavioral health issues, and counseling.

As noted earlier, many Gen Z survey respondents say their first step in managing behavioral health challenges is to go to social media to get advice from others, follow therapists, or download relevant apps.

Globally, schools – as well as employers, healthcare professionals, and parents – may want to study how technology can offer faster access to reliable and meaningful mental health support for Generation Z.

Employers also have a role to play in the mental health of Generation Z.

At work, live support

For the mental health needs of employees, Generation Z is increasingly important when considering an employer. Given that Generation Z is expected to make up about a third of the workforce by 2030,

It will be critical for institutions to take into account these changing expectations and the rising bar for providing mental health support. This will continue to be an increasingly important factor for future employment and retention.

By highlighting valuable tools, such as digital self-help or peer counselors, leaders can demonstrate their understanding of the importance Generation Z places on their mental health.

Gen Z’s mental health should be a priority

Across all 10 countries, the survey showed that those entering the adult stage of their lives experience stressful personal and global events with fear but hope. Generation Z reflects the next group of future teachers, executives, advocates, and parents. It may fall to them one day to shape the path of the world they want to live in. But no one is alone: ​​All stakeholders can benefit from learning about what respondents are saying about their lives, and then thinking about concrete tactics that can provide immediate help. By highlighting valuable tools, such as digital self-help or peer counselors, leaders can demonstrate their understanding of the importance Generation Z places on their mental health. We can all be of service in the challenges that lie ahead.

Ultimately, regardless of age, mental health support creates differences that are meaningful for individuals and organizations. McKinsey Health Institute shares the core belief that promotion, prevention, and early intervention to support mental health is the key to adding years to life and life to years.


MHI is a permanent global not-for-profit entity within McKinsey. MHI strives to catalyze action across continents, sectors, and communities to achieve material improvements in health, enabling people to live the best lives possible. MHI sees youth mental health support as essential to adding years to life and life to years.

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