New data on the impact of social media use on mental health across the world shows just how damaging it is to Gen Zers.

The study, conducted by the McKinsey Health Institute, reported: “Gen Zers, on average, are more likely than other generations to cite negative feelings about social media.”

It found one in four Gen Z members – those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s – connect spending a lot of time on these platforms with poorer mental health.

Kana Enomoto, the director of brain health at the McKinsey Health Institute and an author of the study, said she and her team focused on this age demographic because “Gen Z are the leaders of the future. They are the workforce of the future.”

About 42,000 respondents in 26 countries across continents were surveyed about the four dimensions of health: mental, physical, social and spiritual. Gen Zers ranked worst across all of these categories.

Millennials were next, followed by Gen Xers and baby boomers. One in seven baby boomers said their mental health had declined over the past three years, compared with one in four Gen Z respondents.

Although millennials reported being more active on social media – 32% said they posted at least once a day – Gen Z spends the most amount of time on the apps, but more passively. The study shows that 35% of Gen Z respondents spend over two hours on social media daily compared with 24% of millennials and 14% of baby boomers.

Studies have shown that passive social media use, like endlessly scrolling on TikTok or Instagram, could be linked with declines in wellbeing over time. The negative impact of social media increases substantially for younger ages overall.

At 21%, female Gen Zers, in particular, were almost twice as likely to report poor mental health when compared with their male counterparts, 13% of whom reported poor mental health.

A higher portion of female Gen Zers reported poor or distorted body image and self-confidence as negative impacts of social media. The American Psychological Association found “reducing social media use significantly improves body image in teens and young adults”.

Enomoto said she hopes the study raises more awareness of mental health and its nuances.

But social media is not all bad – respondents across all generations overwhelmingly reported positive impacts of social media when it comes to self-expression and social connectivity.

And according to Enomoto, Gen Zers are also utilizing technology and social media as an avenue for mental health support and as “a source of psychological resilience”.

Enomoto added: “I think many people think of mental health as something that happens to other people, or something that happens in an extreme fashion, but really, we are all dealing with our mental health.”