Millennials often get a bad rap in the media for being “entitled,” “lazy,” and “narcissistic.” While these young adults do enjoy advantages such as greater connectivity, like every generation they face unique and difficult challenges--among theirs are a cultural of unrelenting overachievement, stagnating wages, and huge personal debt. These factors can cause serious stress, and trigger or exacerbate depression in those prone to suffer more from mental illness. By understanding Millennials’ particular stressors we can better identify when to help them get the most appropriate treatment, whether it’s career or financial counseling, psychotherapy, medication, or brain stimulation therapies.For many teenagers, the transition to adulthood can be a difficult time. The rigid structure of K-12 schooling is gone. Those that move out of their family homes find that the support and guidance of parents is no longer immediate. Young adults must develop life skills and navigate work or college on their own. To further complicate their ability to cope, mental illness typically onsets around age 20, and the brain doesn’t fully develop planning and risk-assessment faculties until around 25.
The Millennial generation, born between 1982-2000, must contend with unprecedented challenges, including record debt load, stagnating wages, loss of jobs overseas, decline in the quality of K-12 education, higher cost of living, and, especially in cities, skyrocketing cost of housing. While this is the most educated generation in American history, a record-high 30% of young adults are living with their parents largely due to economic constraints.
Millennials are considered the first generation to be digital natives, and although the amount of information and the community they can access is astonishing, there are downsides. The pressure to portray your life on social media in the best possible light and get those likes can be exhausting and lead to Facebook envy. With users able to hide behind the anonymity of their screens, bullying on social media has become a huge problem. In addition, tech has opened up whole new fields and enables greater mobility, yet the constantly shifting work landscape means that employment is also far less stable.
Much is made of Millennial’s stress caused by overprotective, largely middle-class, parents. These “helicopter” parents strive to provide the best possible environment for their children, but in constantly hovering around their kids, minimizing risks, and cheering even the smallest accomplishments, they end up depriving them of the satisfaction of trial-and-error play, real-life consequences, and self-sufficiency. A recent Atlantic article reports that “Children are born with the instinct to take risks in play, because historically, learning to negotiate risk has been crucial to survival.” Although parents work more and have less free time, they’re actually spending more time with their kids, who are rarely left alone.
These parents came of age in the 1970s and 80s and remember walking to school or taking the bus alone at early ages, and playing in their neighborhoods houses unsupervised. However, they also remember when missing children started appearing on milk cartons and playgrounds were deemed “death traps,” and society came to regard the world as more dangerous. Crimes against children have actually been declining and childhood accidents are no more prevalent than they used to be, but the childrearing ethos has shifted for many parents, with negative consequences for kids. A recent Vox article on millennial depression found that rates of depression and anxiety are higher in students that have been helicoptered.
With parents pushing Millennials to fill their resumes with activities and accomplishments to gain advantage in the highly competitive college admissions process and job hunt, young adulthood can seem like an arms race. “In the tech industry, we find that young adults want to work on legendary, industry-changing projects from the get-go,” says Rachel T, a longtime tech HR exec. “Their expectations are so high, all the time, and there’s no way anyone can meet them all the time. And when they don’t, it can be pretty devastating for some.”
As a Millennial profiled in Vox put it “My therapist says I have a tendency to want to accomplish really special things all the time.” Though the “warm, bright feeling of accomplishment wears off faster each time and leaves her empty and searching for it again.”
Among people of color, depression rates are demonstrably higher. With the added stress of day-to-day discrimination and longstanding institutional disenfranchisement and violence, those prone to depression are more likely to experience an episode--for example, African-American males are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than whites. Some groups experience cultural taboos against acknowledging mental illness and seeking help, leaving many untreated.
Although people of all races in lower socioeconomic strata are less likely to have helicopter parents, they are harder hit by the recent economic downturn. They experience a different set of pressures such as poverty, inadequate education, and non-educational debt, which can compound each other and ultimately trigger depression. Unfortunately, this subgroup also has the least access to mental healthcare resources.
Luckily, Millennials from all backgrounds live in an era when depression is far better understood and mental illness is far less stigmatized than in previous generations. Millennials are better educated about the symptoms of depression, and more likely to identify them, discuss issues with their peers, and seek help from a healthcare provider. Because they are more likely to report anxiety and depression, they’re sometimes thought to have higher rates of mental illness, although it isn’t clear that they actually suffer more from mental illness than previous generations.
Treatments have also advanced significantly, with more targeted anti-depressants and non-invasive therapies such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) that cause minimal side effects and greatly improve quality of life.
If you’re a Millennial and think you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, be sure to see your healthcare provider. Whether you’re experiencing major stress or actually suffering from depression or another mental illness, your doctor can help guide you to the type of treatment that will get you on the road to wellness.