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1 in 3 brands fueling Gen Z mental health crisis on social media

In this Marketing Report:

Are social media platforms a minefield for mental health, particularly for Gen Z? The question is more than academic, especially as Meta faces a legal storm, with 33 U.S. states challenging its impact on our digital well-being. The spotlight intensifies as both individuals and businesses confront the potentially profound repercussions of their online footprints.

Sortlist’s investigation embarks on a mission to decode this complex relationship through two surveys: one capturing the pulse of Gen Z—the true digital connoisseurs—and another that explores the tactics of businesses embedded in the social media landscape. This is where the story turns to reveal the tightrope businesses walk on in this new reality—especially because one in four Gen Z users say their mental health has declined over the past three years.

Delve into our in-depth report and uncover insights that highlight Gen Z’s interactions with brands in the relentless glare of Instagram and TikTok. It’s a timely exploration, pinpointing the balance—or tension—between corporate strategies and the mental health of a generation that lives and breathes social media.

1 in 3

Companies that do not consider mental health when posting on social


Gen Z users that think that brands that fight for mental health do it ‘for show’


Almost a third of companies use FOMO as a marketing tactic on social media

The loud call of 70% of Gen Z to brands: Prioritize our mental health

Generation Z has emerged as a vocal advocate for mental health, with a collective stance that resonates across the globe. Our survey reveals that 67.17% of Gen Z users expect brands to be actively sensitive to the issues surrounding mental health. This digitally native demographic is pushing for a new corporate ethos—one where mental health is not an afterthought but a critical consideration.

gen Z mental health expectations from brands

The data highlights a clear message: Generation Z is no longer satisfied with mental health being left as a side matter; instead, they advocate for its integration as a pivotal and non-negotiable consideration in corporate practices. This collective demand is reshaping the business landscape, fostering an environment where mental well-being is prioritized as an integral part of the overall health and happiness of both employees and consumers alike.

danielle farage

Gen Z wants to not only see companies be responsible on social media, but – if you really want to protect our mental health – find a way to authentically engage us. This may look like a post that poses a question of “How does feeling good about your hair contribute to your mental health?” Simple, to the point, and easily opens the door for the brand to read those responses and build campaigns, deeper conversations, and products with their target audience in mind – while also creating a safe space for us to have healthy and productive conversations.

Danielle Farage, Top 10 Future of Work Influencer | LinkedIn Top Voice for Gen Z

This push aligns with recent studies, including a Deloitte survey, which found that almost half of Gen Z say social media makes them feel lonely and inadequate, and pressured into having an online presence.

gen Z stress levels

For context, a 2023 report by McKinsey states that, globally, one in four Gen Z respondents say their mental health has declined over the past three years.

mental health levels per generation

The figure correlates with the amount of time that Gen Z spends on social media compared to other generations.

time spent on social media per generation

The impact of social media on Gen Z can be seen through different dimensions. Whether it’s body image or social connectivity, the influence can vary strongly, as noted in the McKinsey report.

gen z negative experiences on social media

Despite growing awareness of mental health issues, more than a third of companies still overlook the potential psychological impacts when crafting their social media posts. Our survey found that 37% of companies don’t think about how their social media posts can affect their users’ mental health. This is a serious issue, especially when people are becoming more aware of how online content affects them.

smbs that do not consider mental health in their social media posts

Still, businesses across Europe have taken a proactive stance on mental health, with exactly 55.39% of them reporting to have actively refrained from posting content that could negatively impact their audience’s well-being. So what exactly is going wrong?

Gen Z can go from boycott to buying: Would pay 52% more for a brand authentically supporting their mental health

Skepticism remains high among the youngest ones, with 49.83% of Gen Z users expressing that they perceive brands’ mental health advocacy as a performative act, done ‘for show’ rather than stemming from genuine concern. It signals a strong disconnect between corporate messaging and consumer expectations.

gen z sentiment toward brands that promote mental health on social media

No other generation can materialize that skepticism into action quite like Gen Z, as evidenced by the 48% within this demographic who have chosen to boycott a brand due to its perceived negative impact on mental health.

jeff bullas

Brands need to be aware that selling a dream on social media about using a product is creating FOMO among users, resulting in anxiety and downstream depression for not using their product or creating peer group pressure that is unhealthy and unrealistic. Scrolling through posts for hours that results in them ‘judging their insides from the polished outside of others,’ leads to young easily-influenced adults, and many of us, not feeling worthy and creating and amplifying anxiety and depression. That is why I stopped spending time scrolling.

Jeff Bullas, Digital Marketing Strategist I Forbes’ Top 20 Influencer of Chief Marketing Officers

The boycotts are not just a statement against specific campaigns but are a part of a larger call for ethical marketing practices. As a generation that places high value on social responsibility, Gen Z feel brands need to be held to a higher standard, and 80% of them are likely to base their purchases on a brand’s mission or purpose.

However, 48% is only half the picture, as Gen Z is also known to have an eye for authenticity. Our survey supports the notion that these users are particularly sensitive to brands that genuinely advocate for positive mental health outcomes.

gen z willing to pay more to brands that support mental health
Gen Z users that base their purchase decisions on alignment of values with brands

On average, Gen Z is willing to pay 52% more on brands that are responsible with their users’ mental health. A Forbes article also reported that 86% of consumers considered value alignment in their purchase decisions.

Companies that rise to this challenge and embed sincere mental health initiatives into their core strategy are likely to resonate more deeply with this generation, fostering loyalty and advocacy. Our recent study shows that only 15% of businesses report having seen a negative impact when featuring content that promotes body diversity, inclusivity, or other socially responsible practices.

business impact of posting mental health awareness content on companies' social media

Gen Z, ready to pay more. So what do they want from brands?

The Sortlist survey shows that 50.17% of Gen Z respondents wish businesses implemented comment moderation to filter out hate speech and bullying. In the same manner, a 2021 report by the Anti-Defamation League reveals that 33% of online users reported identity-based harassment, while 28% reported race-based harassment.

Similarly, 46% of users surveyed by Sortlist preferred that companies be realistic in the achievement of the goals that their products advertise. As a contrast, 57% of businesses admitted to posting aspirational content in their social media feeds.

what gen z wants from brands when it comes to mental health in social media

As noted in the results of the survey, few Gen Z users think companies should take no action whatsoever when it comes to mental health in social media, highlighting the strong stance that this generational group takes on businesses’ long-term impact.

what gen z wants from brands when it comes to mental health in social media - ranking of top choices

Interestingly enough, 66% of brands also revealed that they use the “best-looking” models to advertise their products on social media, while 30% said they employed FOMO (or the fear of missing out) as a marketing tactic.

infographic brands' use of fomo in social media and impact on Gen Z's mental health
infographic brands' use of unrealistic body image in social media and impact on Gen Z's mental health

Gen Z has seen through it all, it seems, as 40.17% think that businesses should include diverse and realistic models in advertising to better represent real life, while 26.33% think companies should limit their use of FOMO tactics to reduce anxiety among their followers and buyers.

Similarly, almost half of Gen Z wants companies to be realistic about the achievement of the goals that their products advertise, a strategy that 57% of SMBs admit to using as part of their social media strategy.

These are three dimensions in which both brands and Gen Z differ as their relationship and approach to social media keep evolving.

infographic brands' use of aspirational content in social media and impact on Gen Z's mental health

bryan wempen

The positive aspects of the digital experience outweigh the negative ones. Like other marketing forms, it is context-dependent, with various elements competing for our attention and social influence. Successfully navigating this landscape requires recognizing the pivotal role of context in managing, editing, and filtering the influx of information into our lives. This involves balancing the dynamic nature of these demands with a thoughtful consideration of their implications.

Bryan Wempen, Mental Health Advocate and CRO for Remble, Inc., a B2B and B2G digital health software company with 24/7 mental health support

Perhaps one of the bigger contrasts in the two Sortlist surveys lies in respondents’ approach to mental health experts for social media.

Only 23% of companies said they have consulted with mental health experts or organizations in order to improve their social media strategy. However, 40% of Gen Z users want businesses to collaborate with those organizations for awareness campaigns, signaling a need for brands to deliver on their users’ preferences.

businesses that have consulted with mental health experts

Some companies are already ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting their customers on social media. A shining example of this is Lush Cosmetics, which shut down their Instagram and Facebook pages in 2021 after determining it wasn’t the best place for their customers.


This study was the result of two surveys on 600 users carried out from October 30th to November 3rd, 2023. The first one was directed at casual Gen Z users (ages 16-24) in six countries—the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands—to determine how they thought about brands that approached mental health on social media. The second one was aimed at business owners in those five countries that had an active social media strategy catered to Gen Z users. The responses are anonymous.

About the Sortlist Data Hub

The Sortlist Data Hub is the place to be for journalists and industry leaders who seek data-driven reports from the marketing world, gathered from our surveys, partner collaborations, and internal data of more than 50,000 industries.

It is designed to be a space where the numbers on marketing are turned into easy-to-read reports and studies.


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