'Gen Z gets portrayed as snowflakes - but everyone I know is trying their best to make a living'

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The mental health crisis in London is not a TikTok craze, it's real, writes Joyce Yang.

The cost of living crisis is a dire challenge to everyone. For young couples, having each other’s support is a reassurance, but it doesn’t make things easier.

I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years now. We were both university students when we met. When the lockdown started in 2020, I moved into his parents’ house to save rent, but then we had to move again because the space wasn’t enough.

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We spent the next two years living in a single studio in Old Street. Although it was nice to have our own space, the financial strain did take a toll on us. I was lucky to have my parents partially cover my living costs, but I also did online writing jobs as a side hustle. I got scammed by an internship once, which I thought was paid but I received nothing at the end.

Coming from a less well-off background, my boyfriend was the first one going to university in his family. After finishing a criminology degree, he couldn’t find any job and had to work night shifts in a Marks & Spencer. He would wake up at 3am and finish around lunchtime. Because his parents were in a financial crisis, he then had to work extra hours in an upholstery workshop to support them. I still wonder how he could work 70 hours a week for a year and never complain.

Last year, we moved out of the studio due to the rising rent. We were happy to secure a cheaper apartment between Highgate and East Finchley. Only later we found out it had a shared corridor covered in black mould and a leaking ceiling.

We could barely afford any leisure. We’ve never been to a club or concert, and the last time we went to a restaurant was almost two years ago. If we ever go out, it would be visiting free museums and exhibitions. Having a takeaway meal on Saturdays is the only luxury we have most weeks.

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I don’t understand why Gen Z is frequently portrayed as snowflakes in the media. Everyone I know is trying their best to make a living, doing lots of unpaid work experience with the price of burnout. Our mental health crisis is not a TikTok trend. It is real.

Joyce YangJoyce Yang
Joyce Yang | Joyce Yang

As an autistic 22-year-old, I’ve been through anorexia and depression in the past few years, and so has my boyfriend. Therapy would help but it isn’t an option for us because it’s too expensive. I just hope the burnout is only a phase, and our mental health will be improved when we are more financially stable. I also hope that the older generation can be more understanding to us, recognising our efforts rather than calling us lazy.

The silver lining is, things are getting better for us. My boyfriend just got a full-time job working as an upholstery apprentice in an east London workshop. I will be graduating from a journalism course this summer, and hopefully, I can land a job sooner. I feel so guilty about relying on my parents for the past four years, and I can’t wait to stand on my own feet. We look forward to our future.

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Joyce Yang is studying an MA in newspaper journalism at City University.

Project Peter Pan - launched by National World as the UK heads toward a general election in 2024 - aims to use our collective media power to give a voice to those in their 20s and 30s who have negotiated a pandemic, work hard and are ambitious, yet are lost. Frozen out of the housing ladder and stuck in a rental cycle often in substandard accommodation, many are in debt and facing impossible decisions.

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