Alex Cooper and Alix Earle are known to provide good looks, laughs and entertaining stories of wild nights out on their social media platforms, where they have a combined following of nearly 13 million on Instagram and TikTok. But the blonde bombshells will be pulling back the curtain on their seemingly perfect lives with Cooper’s launch of the Unwell Network and Earle’s Hot Mess podcast within in.
Many mental health experts say it’s an ideal way to engage Gen Z on serious issues.
“Everybody has moments during the day where they feel like they’re overwhelmed, that they’re not going to be able to recover from rough moments,” Barbara Greenberg, an adolescent psychologist, tells Yahoo Life. “Concepts like the Unwell Network and Hot Mess send the message of how do you deal with being unwell? You can talk about feeling unwell, it becomes normalized.”
Representatives for the Unwell Network didn’t respond to Yahoo Life’s inquiry. Cooper, the 29-year-old Call Her Daddy podcast host, told Variety that the production network is meant to cater to Gen Z audiences with “unique voices that embrace social challenges and personal insecurities through honest conversation.” This is something that Cooper has done successfully by shifting the focus of her podcast from solely sex and relationships to include personal insights about therapy and mental well-being. The talent that she’s welcomed to the Unwell Network thus far, Earle and another influencer Madeline Argy, are known for speaking about mental health as well.
According to findings from a recent Gallup poll that reported less than half of Gen Z Americans (defined as 12- to 26-year-olds) are “thriving.” The data is based on self-reported ratings of their current and future lives and the state of their mental well-being, which is the lowest compared to previous generations.
But is it fair to speak to this generation’s concerns with tongue-in-cheek use of the words “unwell” and “hot mess?” Here’s what experts say.
What does it mean to be ‘unwell’?
Put simply, the term is used to describe a state of illness — the opposite of being well. For Gen Z-ers, however, the word has taken on different meanings. According to Urban Dictionary, it can be used to share displeasure or surprise. It can also express a person’s inability to properly process an emotion or event.
“Young people these days identify with the phrase ‘unwell’ as a cheeky way of saying that something is bothering them or they’re not perfect,” says Jennifer Teplin, founder and clinical director of Manhattan Wellness. “Cooper naming the production network ‘Unwell’ reinforces how casual and relatable the term has become in every day language.”
Teplin acknowledges, however, that there might be perceived harm in the way that these pop culture references could “minimize the severity that those who previously identified with the term are expressing.” However, it will certainly bring social media personalities like Cooper and Earle closer to their audiences and may help listeners openly express themselves.
“It’s important to explore the idea of being unwell because we’re often still afraid to be honest about any feeling that might not be shiny or attractive,” Elizabeth Marks, a therapist at Manhattan Wellness, tells Yahoo Life.
“I love the vulnerability, and I’m really impressed with the relatability,” adds Greenberg.
It’s something that Earle, a 22-year-old recent University of Miami graduate, has received praise for as she’s posted videos showing her messy room and unfiltered acne and discussing her experiences with anxiety. Recently, she even talked through a panic attack that she experienced while at a work event and how she dealt with it. Her Hot Mess podcast will explore these areas further, which Greenberg sees as a good thing.
“You feel validated, you don’t feel so lonely anymore with your feelings,” Greenberg explains. “I mean, I think everybody at every age needs permission to talk about their vulnerabilities.”
Why is this so important for Gen Z?
“This is the age of emotional dysregulation,” says Greenberg. “Emotionally overwhelmed, like hot messes, is how they feel much of the time.”
While studies show that Gen Z suffers more than previous generations when it comes to mental health, Gen Z-ers are also the most open and honest when it comes to discussing the topic. The American Psychological Association has attributed this, at least partly, to public figures sharing their mental challenges.
“I spoke to four of my Gen Z clients who say that [Cooper and Earle] are people they feel very connected to because they get tips and share topics that are not usually discussed,” says Greenberg, noting that these conversations can have a notable impact. “[Audiences] learn to start talking about their feelings and then maybe they’ll be more likely to connect with a mental health professional.”
Although having these discussions among otherwise superfluous fashion and lifestyle content might not make sense to everyone, Greenberg believes that it’s serving an important purpose.
“They’re saying it’s OK to be a hot mess, they’re saying it’s OK to be unwell,” she says. “Giving people permission for that emotional expression is critically important.”