It’s tough being a Gen Z-er today. While their lives might seem easier due the tremendous progress and innovations made in almost every field in the last few decades, there are perhaps other metrics we should consider. Metrics that matter more to their human spirit, their sense of purpose and their overall wellbeing.

A failing grade

By most accounts, we are failing this generation. In the years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness – as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors increased dramatically among young people. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System puts in this number at about 40% among youngsters in the United States. The situation isn’t much better elsewhere around the world.

A Gallup-WWF study said that compared with older generations, Gen Z-ers are much more likely to report experiencing negative emotions such a stress, anxiety and loneliness. Social media pressure, military conflicts, natural disasters, climate change, crushing debt, economic insecurity, lack of community and connection – all play central roles in contributing to this worrying statistic and the ensuing mental health crisis.

As adults responsible for the next generation, we’ve been asleep at the wheel. The comforting delusion that we can continue with ‘business as usual’ is wreaking havoc on the lives and futures of these Gen Z-ers.

They live in bigger houses but empty homes. They have lightning fast 5G internet connectivity but have to contend with a deep void of human connection. We’ve got them overly concerned about GPA’s and college entrance tests while we breezily brush aside their concern for the state of the planet they live on. We tell them they are the leaders of tomorrow while providing poor examples of true leadership today.

Sins of omission

Our sins of omission might overshadow those of commission – our deafening silence in the face of injustice, our numbing apathy at the violence against the powerless, our blatant disregard for the pleas of the vulnerable.

We’re promoting toxic traits – favoring independence over interdependence, which is shown to be a mark of maturity; individualism, instead of collectivism where everyone benefits; and isolation rather than embracing community, which provides the crucial social and psychological support they need to thrive.

Care, compassion and courage

While none of this was intentional, the ongoing impact is undeniable. If we want Gen Z-ers to have a fighting chance at happiness and fulfillment, we need to re-assess our values and priorities. We need to change the way we view the world, not just how we can get the most out of it, but how we can all actively contribute to a better world. Not just mindless consumption at the expense of the poor and the planet, but mindful utilization and fair distribution of resources. Not just what’s best for us individually, but what’s best for society as a whole.

We need to re-examine and repair our social fabric. We need to show care, compassion and courage for those less fortunate. We need to realize how interconnected our lives and paths are.

A paradigm shift

Until we can make this shift in our thinking, our current efforts at tackling the youth mental-health crisis, which primarily center around medication and individual therapy, will be incomplete, ineffective and woefully short-sighted. It’s high time we take a more holistic view and demonstrate the stewardship required from us.

Undoubtedly, this transition won’t be easy, given that we’ve been entrenched in this way of thinking for so long. It’s so much easier to prescribe quick fixes rather than to re-evaluate the very foundations we’ve built our lives on. But this is now a moral imperative – the future of Gen Z hangs in the balance.