Written by : Transcript – Gen Z and Mental Health With Deborah Heisz 

Transcript – Gen Z and Mental Health With Deborah Heisz

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Gen Z and Mental Health With Deborah Heisz




[00:00:03] LM: Thank you for joining us for episode 466 of Live Happy Now. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And while we look at mental health all year long, this is the perfect time to take an even closer look at something we all should be talking about.


I’m your host, Paula Felps. And today I’m joined by Live Happy CEO and Co-Founder, Deborah Heisz, to talk about Gen Z and mental health.


According to recent studies, Generation Z is experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Today, Deb and I are talking about what’s causing this Mental Health crisis among young people and what we all can do about it. Let’s have a listen.




[00:00:43] PF: Deb, thank you for coming on the show.


[00:00:47] DH: Thanks, Paula. It’s always a joy when I get to spend some time with you talking about things that we’re both passionate about.


[00:00:53] PF: Yes. And May is Mental Health Month. We’re doing this. This is the last episode of April. Tomorrow we start a shiny new month looking at mental health awareness. And this was a fantastic time to sit down and talk to you. You and I had had this conversation offline about The World Happiness Report and specifically its findings on Gen Z. And so, that conversation was so good. It’s like let’s do this on the air and talk about it.


[00:01:20] DH: I think The World Happiness Report, for us it’s kind of a landmark thing. It turns out we started Live Happy while they were working on the World Happiness Report. We of course didn’t know that at the time. It’s kind of we’re parallel in age. We have the same age.


What’s interesting to me is the World Happiness Report really has started to take a deep dive into human well-being, which is something that wasn’t taking place before that. I mean, positive psychology wasn’t that old to begin with. And then for governments and for social agencies to really start looking not just at health concerns of their population. But, also, mental well-being of the population really hits the world happiness. A lot of that data is in the World Happiness Report. It’s really kind of a cool thing for us.


But I think for this year, it’s interesting because something appeared that we hadn’t seen before. Something really near and dear to my heart. And I kind of want to preface this conversation by reminding everybody or telling everybody if they don’t already know, neither Paula nor I are scientists. Paula is an editor, gatherer of information, interpreter of information extraordinaire. One of the best interviewers I’ve ever met. And truly passionate about what we do at Live Happy.


I am an MBA who runs businesses. I’m also a parent of teens who happen to – that’s why this episode is particularly interesting to me. We’re going to talk about a lot of stuff. But anything we say might be or actually is opinion. This topic is one that needs to be talked about. Needs to be talked about broadly. Which is why even though we don’t have the scientific background, it’s such a passion thing for us. And I know that you think, just like I think, people need to be talking about this. And what they need to be talking about is the well-being of Generation Z.


I mean, when I’m retired, they’re the ones who are going to be leading the world. We should really, really care about how they’re thinking about themselves. What they’re feeling and what they think of the world around them. There’s a lot of concerning information in this year’s World Happiness Report.


[00:03:16] PF: Yeah. Because the thing that really struck me is, overall, in most countries, the happiest generation is the youngest generation. In the US, we were exactly the opposite. Our happiest generation is the Boomer. And then each subsequent generation just gets less happy. And by the time we get down to Gen Z, it’s dismal. And that’s alarming. Because we know that how happy you are in adolescence is a predictor of your happiness in adulthood.


Where would you like to start unpacking this ginormous subject on? Because I’d really like to talk about what’s driving it. And then, also, what we can do? Because there’s no easy way to turn this around.


[00:03:56] DH: No. No. There isn’t. When you just mentioned that how happy you are at a young age, in your teen years, is a predictor of how happy you’ll be later in life, the truly disturbing fact is that tends to be your happiest point in life. Your teenage years, you tend to be happier than you are later. If they’re starting at a lower set point, that does not bode well for the future. If they’re already less happy than 30-year-olds, how much less happier are they going to be when they’re 30 than 30-year-olds right now? It’s very concerning.


And the question that everybody has to be asking is why are they less happy than prior generations? Why are they less happy than their peers in other countries or in other regions of the world? It’s very concerning. And it’s something that people really should be standing on the rooftop screaming, “We’ve got to do something about this.”


[00:04:47] PF: Yeah. I think it’s like an all-hands-on-deck kind of crisis. Because if they’re not happy, then they’re giving birth to the next generation. You can just kind of extrapolate what goes on down the line if we can’t turn this around.


[00:05:01] DH: It’s not something that’s going to fix itself. It’s something that people need to start looking at and saying, “Okay, what’s causing this? How do we make changes? What is controllable?” It’s always like, “Well, that’s great. But I can’t really control that.” But there’s a lot more that as a society we can control and influence that I think we realize. But we have to start. And the way to start is by at least talking about it.


[00:05:24] PF: Absolutely. After we had talked about that, you were going to look up some things. Because you were very inspired not just from a professional standpoint. But as you mentioned, personally, you have children who fall into this age group and below. What were some of the things that you found as triggers that are preventing children from being happier?


[00:05:45] DH: Well, I think two things really struck me as being things that impact the younger generations right now. And one of them is directly related to where they are in life. My kids – this is not being a scientist. Everything in the world around children is going to somehow be related to my children and to my brain. My kids are looking at college. They’re looking at going to college. They’re looking at what kind of life am I going to have after college? And I’ve had several dialogues with my son and his friends about I’m never going to be able to buy a house I’m like, “You’re 16. What makes you think you’re never going to be able to buy a house?” And they look out and they see the economy and they see all of the information about how expensive you’re looking at going to college. How expensive going to college has become relative to what you earn afterwards.


They see rising interest rates. They see rising home prices. And if you tell someone who’s 16 years old that they’re going to have to graduate from college $200,000 in debt and buy a house that’s going to cost them $300,000 $400,000, they’re like, “What? I will never be able to do that.” Numbers they can’t get their heads around. But more importantly, the media and the economy is telling them they won’t.


When we’re looking at what’s going on in the world and we’re exposed to media, our kids are super exposed. I mean, they’re on their phones. They talk to their friends. We all know that depending on which version of the internet you’re looking at, which site you’re looking at, you get different views. And their views may not be what we’re seeing. But we do know that they look at the world very differently than the way we look at it.


There’s a great book by Jason Dorsey called Zconomy which really examines the difference about how young people approach business. How they approach looking for a job. How they approach everything in life. And how different it is from the way the Millennials, the Generations Z and how they approach it.


And one of the interesting things to me that he points out is they’re more like Generation X. They’re more like my generation. How they think about it than they are with the Millennials. And what’s cool about that to me is, first of all, I’m Generation X. Therefore, I can relate. And my kids think I’m cool. No. But I like to think they think I’m cool.


But when I was growing up, we were coming out of massive inflation. We were coming out of the Reagan Era. There was a concern about jobs. We were pre-recession. But there was this hugely unstable economic outlook in our minds. And so, we all became focused on doing better, on personal achievement. Generation X is very focused on doing what they can do to control their environment, and career path, and working harder.


And what’s interesting is Generation Z is like that. Although, they don’t have the hope that we had. We were always kind of told we can work really hard and control our future. And for some reason, all of this financial information and all this financial fear is manifesting differently in them. I don’t think they have the hope they’re going to be able to achieve what their parents achieved. That American dream of every generation’s better. Maybe we’ve kind of reached the end of that where they’re thinking I just want to catch up. I’m not looking to being better. I’m looking to not falling backwards.


[00:09:03] PF: And do you think, too, growing up with parents who maybe are millennials or even Gen X and those parents were given everything and didn’t learn how to save in the ways that they spend their money differently? And now Gen Z is like, “I don’t want to be broke. I want to be able to do these things.”


[00:09:24] DH: I will say that Gen X and Millennials, as we know, are more likely to have credit card debt than Baby Boomers. Right? And they’re more likely to be in debt. And I do think that there is a debt fear that the next generation doesn’t want to be in debt because they’ve seen the oldest part of that generation live through the 2008 economic crisis. But the youngest part didn’t. My son is 17. He was born in 2007. He does not remember 2008 when people were losing jobs and homes. But it does have a follow-on effect. There’s that I don’t want to be in debt. I don’t want to owe people money. I just want to live my life.


One of the good things I think though is, like the millennial generation, they care more about the environment. They care more about the planet. They care more about all of that. Here’s the challenge. That doesn’t necessarily manifest itself in hope. Right?


[00:10:14] PF: And right now, it’s more like a discouraging thing. Because every day we’re seeing like, “Oh, here’s one more atrocity that’s being committed against the planet.” And it’s like just that constant drum beat of one more thing going wrong. One more species being extinct.


[00:10:30] DH: And you look at it from a standpoint of – last night I was talking to my son and he needed to buy something. I pulled out my phone. I was going to order on Amazon. He’s like, “Mom, don’t order it on Amazon.” I’m like, “Why?” He goes, “That’s bad for the environment.” Like, what? Everything gets trucked. Everything gets moved. But in his mind, having an individual package sent to the house is bad for the environment. Versus him going to the store and buying it. And I’m like, “Well, you use the same gas in the store to get –” never mind. Let’s not introduce logic into the conversation.


And he said, “I don’t want to support big business. I want to support small business. I don’t want conglomerates.” That’s what’s in their head. They’re scared of the environment. They’re scared of their financial future. They don’t see enough action being taken to improve those things. They don’t know where they’re going to end up. They don’t know that the same jobs are going to be there.


We look at AI like, “Oh, this is really cool.” They look at AI like I was going to be a developer. I was going to be a writer. Am I going to have a job?


[00:11:24] PF: Right. Do I just need to learn how to write prompts? Is that what my future holds?


[00:11:29] DH: The future holds – scarier, right? A little scarier. I do think that that – now describing a problem, you hope there’s a solution. I don’t know what the solution is. But I do know that I think that has created a lot of what they’re seeing and feeling. And as parents and as people interact with young people, we need to be cognizant of that’s their starting place. Their starting place is the world is not healthy. Our generation is killing the Earth. Our opportunity isn’t the same as your opportunity. I’m never going to be able to afford a house. I’m going to graduate – if I graduate from high school and go to college, I’m going to end up in a ton of debt. If I graduate from high school and get a job, I’m not going to have the same opportunities I would have had had I gone to college. It’s a horrible choice to have to make. For some reason, that generation is focused on not what could be but what is right now.


[00:12:18] PF: It’s so very interesting. And as you and I have talked, one of the big things driving their mindset is what they see on social media. Because unlike where we grew up with television. And let’s face it, it was a pretty sugarcoated TV land when you and I were growing up. We didn’t have Dateline with a new dead person every week. It was a completely different world.


the social media and how it is just constantly exposing them to new tragedies, to new dangers, to new ways to bully one another, what do you see that doing? You and I have talked about some of the studies that we’ve read. Can we kind of unpack that a little bit?


[00:12:59] DH: I do think social media is a huge. And we go to conferences where they talk about social media having a huge negative impact. We need to acknowledge though social media has a positive impact as well. The positive impact is the ability to communicate, to build relationships, to find like-minded people. Maybe you live in a small town and no one around you seems to have the same interests as you have. You can go on social media and actually interact and have some meaningful touch points with people that are like you and figure out that you’re not that weird. That there are other people like you in the world. Or have a conversation with somebody that maybe lives a long way away or maybe still talking to friends at school but you’re able to communicate with a larger group and it feels more social and a little less isolated. Because we all know, social isolation is a big driver of depression and negative outlook on life.


I do think, in a lot of ways, social media has helped kids feel more involved, more included. Flip side of that of course is the bullying and stuff like that. Is tragic and is an issue. But for me – we could do a whole episode on online bullying. But for me, I think the bigger thing is this FOMO, right? And this not having a good image of yourself when you engage not in that dialogue nature of social media. But in the observing nature of social media.


There’s this great study that was done. I think it was done by the Mayo Clinic. I’m not sure. Don’t quote me on that once again. Not a scientist. But it talks about how, in adolescence, the part of your brain that processes emotions, it develops faster than the part that develops judgment critical thinking. You can have emotions and you can make decisions emotionally as teenagers are prone to do. We all know teenagers do not necessarily stop and think. That critical thinking isn’t there.


You can respond emotionally to content you’re seeing on social media and not really think about it critically. That can develop body image issues in girls particularly. Well, although, boys as well. My son goes to the gym all the time and he really is focused on how he looks as well as being healthy. But body image issues can come into it. Because even though you’re seeing it on social media, you don’t necessarily think that’s not real. Unless it’s obviously not real, right?


And the other thing is they can see people doing things. And those people look really happy. And they can emotionally react and go, “All those people – that looks like so much fun because all those people are doing it.” And then they think, in order to be happy, they need to do that.




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And now, let’s get back to talking about Gen Z.




[00:17:35] DH: There’s this discordance between what they’re seeing and what’s real. You brought up we watched television. We watched television. We knew that wasn’t real. [inaudible 00:17:44] wasn’t real. We knew the Loveboat wasn’t real.


[00:17:48] PF: Wait. Wait. What?


[00:17:52] DH: Fantasy Island wasn’t real. We watched it and it was entertaining. But we knew that wasn’t real life. Social media, I don’t think kids get that the image – I think they get it if you talk to them about it. They know it’s not real. But, emotionally, they’re reacting to it. And so, they may know it’s not real. But they still create worry and concern in them.


Too much social media, it creates this image that they think they need to live up to. And then they add on, “I’m never going to have enough money. I’m never going to be cute enough. I’m never going to –” whatever it is. It creates a problem. And I do think that’s a big driver of why they’re unhappy.


[00:18:29] PF: There’s an organization called Ruling Our eXperiences and they deal with how social media affects young girls. And one of the things that they found is how greatly it – as you had talked about the eating disorders. But it said it also is leading to mental health things like suicidal ideation. And it’s become more accepted among teenage girls to go to that place. We didn’t have that issue growing up. You didn’t think these kids are picking on me, I’m going to go kill myself. And I’ve seen things recently where there was like an 8-year-old boy that committed suicide after being bullied. And it’s just online. And it’s just astounding to me that these things are filtering through to our children. Those are the outcomes that we’re getting because they somewhere are getting the message that that’s the only way out.


[00:19:18] DH: Yeah. It’s tragic. And we do know – we do know that there’s more suicidal ideation comes along. But the question is, for me, it’s always is it just that people are talking about it more? Or is it actually new? And then when you start looking like an 8-year-old, thank God, that’s a huge outlier. But it’s not as taboo to talk about as it was when I was growing up, for sure.


It was a really rare occurrence that you heard about it or thought about it. Heard about it at school. It just was not that prevalent. And so, you kind of wonder how much just introducing an idea is part of an issue. Right? But then again, if you don’t talk about it, then you can’t solve the problem. This stuck.


One of the things that I thought was really interesting, and I know I started off this way on social media, was we always want to point at the negatives without pointing at the positives. And I think when we look at generation, we really need to look at the fact that they were hit much harder by the pandemic than any other group. And social media helped get them through that, that isolation sense.


[00:20:23] PF: Yes.


[00:20:25] DH: But that pandemic I also think significantly contributed in our country overall negative outlook. By social isolation, I mean kids staying home for two years as opposed to going to school.


[00:20:38] PF: And this was during key times of development. How does a kindergartner learn social skills if they’ve been at home for two years?


[00:20:47] DH: Right. And then a lot of them, homeschoolings weigh up as a result too. Kids didn’t go back to school. They continued their social isolation, which is interesting. Like, “Oh, they could go back to school. But now they’re comfortable at home. They don’t want to. They don’t want to go back out and interact with people.” And you hear about people that were at the wrong time in terms of development and they missed their prom, they missed their graduation. They started school. But I’m not as concerned about them. Because that’s going to end up being – that was a really sad thing. But you kind of got your social skills by the time you’re 16 or 17.


But you’re right. 10-year-olds are very different. They’re not fully socially developed. They haven’t figured out how to interact. Doing team projects at school. Just playing on the playground. All that stuff, which decades of research showing how important that stuff is to kids is just gone for a couple years. And they ended up in their little cocoon and their little bubble. And there’s fear of social interaction.


Learning how to interview for a job, learning how to write a resume, all that stuff that we need to teach not in college. You need to learn how to do that in high school. Well, there were no jobs to go get. You missed that too. There’s just so much that they missed. I look back and I’m like I would be so sad if I didn’t have that part of my life. And they didn’t.


[00:22:08] PF: Yeah. Like you said, there’s no way to go reclaim that. We don’t get a doover starting in 2020. Although, I think we all deserve one. But, yeah, especially the kids. How do we start reaching out? And how do we start creating a different world knowing what they’re going through?


[00:22:28] DH: Well, I think, first thing, except there’s a problem. First of all – and the World Happiness Report is great. There’s a problem we have to start talking about. I don’t think anyone knows the answers. They kind of know the answers to various smaller issues, like social media intrinsically is not bad. But we should monitor what our children are doing on social media. We should know what they’re doing. We should monitor the amount of time. We should balance online interactions with real-world interactions. Don’t leave them to their own devices. Don’t say, “Oh, well, here – literally device. Here’s your iPad and go.” In fact, my kids call – probably not a nice word, but they’ll call not a nice descriptor. But they’ll say that’s an iPad kid. Meaning that kid doesn’t socially interact.


[00:23:14] PF: Wow. That is amazing. That is amazing that it now it actually has that phrase.


[00:23:19] DH: It’s a negative connotation. And I’m like, “Don’t say that.” But that’s what they mean, “Oh, that’s an iPad kid.” We as parents need to acknowledge that we’re responsible for how much time, and how much interaction, and what they’re doing, and knowing what’s on. I mean, my kids hate it. But you will keep your find my phone on. Because if I can’t find your phone, I can’t find you. And if I can’t find you and I can’t find your phone, you don’t need a phone. And I’ll know where it’s going to be. It’s going to be here in the house. Right?


But we need to take responsibility and not demonize social media. Because if you tell your kid it’s all bad, you don’t need to be doing it. You’re not telling them the truth. I mean, when we did research for this podcast, as light as it was, being that we’re not scientists, but when we did research for this podcast, where did we go? We went online.


[00:24:08] PF: Internet. Yeah.


[00:24:09] DH: We went to the internet. I mean, the internet’s a tool. It’s pervasive in their life. Y ou can’t take that away. That’s not going to work. And social media is part of that tool. I need to do a deep dive into X, Y, Z. And I find a Facebook group that talks about X, Y, Z. It’s part – actually, they wouldn’t find a Facebook. They’d find an Instagram. But –


[00:24:30] PF: Or TikTok. Until it’s banned.


[00:24:31] DH: Or TikTok. Exactly. But it by itself is not evil or detrimental. But we have to monitor what they’re doing. We have to know what they’re doing. We have to set limits and boundaries and be parents. And we also need to encourage them to develop face-to-face social skills. Actually, get out and talk to people. Learn how to shake somebody’s hand. Learn how to have a conversation. Learn how to interact with somebody who’s an adult on a regular basis. But we’re not going to fix it by fixing social media. Social media itself doesn’t fix it, right? But I do think it all stems back to having the dialogue. Understanding that where the youth go is where we go.


This country, the United States, was really built in its current form by the Baby Boomer generation. I mean, I’m Generation X. I’m right behind them. But if you look at everything in our society in general, it’s Boomers that are – which is a negative word too. iPad kids and Boomers. It was really built by that generation.


And as Millennials and Generation Z move into positions of power and authority, they’re going to have control over our economy and over our lives. And what they care about is different than maybe what the Boomers cared about. And acknowledging that, and having dialogue, and caring, and paying attention to what they care about and starting to work on some of those things.


I mean, I don’t know or care what any listener’s position is on global warming. But I will tell you that our generation, our generation Z, they aren’t talking about global warming. They’re talking about impact, litter, oceans being dirty, air being dirty. They are looking at the whole thing of are we taking care of the Earth.


In a way, I think past Generations really didn’t. Even though they said that they did. That generation is fully embedded in polar bears are dying. We need to take care of the oceans. And we’re missing out on animals that used to exist. And we have too much pollution. And they’ll even tell you, “But electrical cars aren’t the answer because there’s battery parts that are bad for the –” they’re looking for answers that they don’t have. [inaudible 00:26:56] find them.


[00:26:57] PF: Yeah. And I think this this is where it’s really – where you talk about social media and the internet having so much purpose. What is done – we used to be so removed at polar bears are dying. But that didn’t affect me. Now they’re watching a video. They are seeing things in real life. And it affects them profoundly.


[00:27:16] DH: It does. And a lot of it has to do with – back to the point that they are emotionally developed but not critically developed, critical thinkers. Has to do with their source. If somebody is attaching great meaning to something, they’re incredibly smart, they don’t have the cognitive reasoning that jumps in to say, “Is that right?” right away. They can be easily swayed by what they’re seeing. And I’ll tell you one thing that drives me crazy is advertisers know that.


[00:27:45] PF: Yes.


[00:27:45] DH: They know that if they drop that ad into social media and they get an emotional reaction either because it’s funny or because – it’s not as simple as we were. It’s like it was cool. No. They actually make them laugh or they make them cry. They know that whatever it is they’re advertising is going to be affiliated with that emotion. They know that. And that there’s not necessarily critical thinking to parse that in younger people, in teenagers even.


And so, they take advantage of that. We just have to be cognizant of the fact that they don’t have straightforward news like we used to have. Just the facts, ma’am. Right? That doesn’t exist anymore. They get all of everything that’s going on in the world from a million different directions. Some of it’s cultivated. Some of it’s made up. Some of it’s got meaning attached to it. We need to have those offline conversations. And as non-parents, have those offline conversations. Don’t just assume it’s just going to happen. That somehow these people are miraculously going to figure out that that’s not real, or that this is real, or that this isn’t important. And know that everything that we’re bombarding everybody with, including ourselves, is manipulating us in one way or another. Try not to do that. They need to know that it’s going to be okay.


And I don’t think the way our media is set up, you and I have talked all about, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said be wary of what you put in your head, my kids, to people we’ve talked about, Live Happy, you worry what you put in your head. So you start believing it. And they are inundated with stuff that tells them they’re less than, that tells them there’s something to be scared of. We’ve got to start balancing that with the other side. There’s a lot to hope for. There’s a lot of good coming down the pipe. We’ve got to spend time and energy creating that content. And aren’t we lucky that we get to do that for a living, Paula?


[00:29:35] PF: I love that. But you know what? I’d also love to hear is what our listeners think. I’d love to hear what they’re doing with their children, with other Gen Z. If they want to drop us an email, editor@livehappy.com, and let us know. And let us know what you’d like to hear more on this topic. Because it is a mental health crisis that we’ve got to resolve. Because it’s not going to resolve itself.


[00:29:59] DH: Well, and our commitment to our listeners is you’re like, “Yeah, you guys have been babbling about the problem. Didn’t feel any better today.” That’s okay. Our commitment to our listeners is we’re going to try and get some of the experts out there that are studying this on the podcast. Not next week. We’re going to be doing some additional podcasts on this topic in the future. Some more expertise than we have. But it was such a standout moment in the World Happiness Report this year. We felt it was worth talking about. And at least creating the thought or the dialogue where people can say, “Hey, we need to be talking about this.” Because we do. We really, really do.


I think if you don’t know how disenfranchised that generation is feeling right now, you just need to be aware that that’s what’s going on with them. And we’ve got a moral obligation to help them find success and find happiness in their lives. And they’re not starting from a good spot.


[00:30:55] PF: All right. Well, we’ll do what we can. We’ll start working on it.


[00:30:59] DH: All right. You get on that, Paula.


[00:30:59] PF: Yeah. I’ll put it on my to-do list. But, thank you. Yeah, thank you for having this conversation. As you said, we are going to be talking with some experts about it. Bringing some other people in to really look at specific areas that we can make improvements in. Specific things that we can do. And, again, we’d love to hear from our listeners, editor@livehappy.com. We want to know what you want to hear and what you’re.




[00:31:27] PF: That was Live Happy’s CEO and Co-Founder, Deborah Heisz, talking with me about Gen Z and mental health. We’d love to hear what you think about this topic. Be sure to drop us a line at editor@livehappy.com and tell us what you think.


That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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