Compared to past generations, Millennials are much more open about mental health. The stigma that once surrounded the conversation has lessened considerably. Instead of being scared to admit suffering from a mental illness, Millennials have more of an issue with finding the time and funds to access the mental health care they need, explains Matters of the Mind.
You’ve heard of people referring to Millennials as “the anxious generation,” because it’s true: Millennials suffer from higher anxiety levels than any other previous generation before them. There’s plenty of theories why - helicopter parents is a popular one - but the reality is that anxiety levels are higher than ever before according to Jean Twenge’s analysis.
Minnesota’s Multiphasic Personality Inventory has been surveying high school and college students for the past eighty years, asking questions about the symptoms of anxiety and depression they have experienced. The phrasings haven’t changed, but the answers have, and the correlation is clear: the symptoms have only increased over time.
So what caused this upward swing? For one thing, social media has only made matters worse. The immediacy of the internet allows people to continually compare themselves to each other, increases the pressure to be ‘on’ all the time, only showcasing the good parts of their lives make Millennials (and other generations!) feel inferior to one another (NAMI.org) The expectation to have your life together at all times is enough to drive anyone to the point of feeling overwhelmed.
College students, aka Millennials, in particular are prone to depression, now more than ever. Twenge accounts a number of things for the upward rise, such as isolation - more Millennials live farther away from their parents and families. With the increased independence afforded to us with a more equal society and more freedom provides fewer opportunities to connect with others. And this makes sense - moving to a different house is a very daunting endeavor. Add in the potential of knowing no one in that new city just adds to the challenge.
“The focus on money, fame, and image has gone up,” Twenge explains, in addition to the change in family structures also contributing. People are focused on things that don’t make them happy, and that, unsurprisingly, has not boded well for the Millennial psyche.
Eating disorders are still prevalent among the mental illnesses that plague Millennials. In 2001, the American Psychological Association stated that out of the eight million Americans suffering from an eating disorder, almost ninety percent of them are young women, or “Millennials.” Even now, over a decade later, eating disorders remain the third highest chronic illness among adolescent girls. Part of the problem is the constant comparison social media has only enabled. Another part of it is the way we talk about food as a society, as well as the harsh criticism that creates negative body images. The low level of nutritional information readily available to Americans also puts us at a disadvantage.
While the conversation still needs to continue and could with some improvements, fortunately, mental health is becoming a key part of overall well-being. Social media is doing its part to spread the word about mental illness; celebrities are coming forward to share their own experiences. Mental health doesn’t have to be shameful, and no one has to face it alone.