Lonely, burned out, and depressed: The state of millennials’ mental health entering the 2020s
Dec 16, 2019
Millennials are changing the way people look at and talk about mental health.
Business Insider took a look at the mental-health state of millennials (defined by the Pew Research Center as the cohort turning ages 23 to 38 in 2019). The forecast for millennials’ mental health in 2020 doesn’t look pretty — depression and “deaths of despair” are both on the rise among the generation, linked to issues such as loneliness and money stress.
Millennials also feel that their jobs have an outsize role in their overall mental health. Because of longer work hours and stagnant wages, millennials suffer from higher rates of burnout than other generations. Many of them have even quit their jobs for mental-health reasons.
While some millennials can’t afford to get help, they’re more likely to go to therapy than previous generations, destigmatizing the concept in the process.
Here are 12 ways mental illness has plagued the millennial generation.
Millennials are experiencing a “health shock” largely fueled by a decline in mental health.
A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report found that millennials are seeing their physical and mental health decline at a faster rate than Gen X as they age. Without proper management or treatment, millennials could see a 40% uptick in mortality compared with Gen Xers of the same age, the report found.
Behavioral health — rises in rates of depression, hyperactivity (such as anxiety or ADHD), and substance abuse — is a key factor in the “health shock” among millennials, according to the report. Health shocks, as defined by the World Health Organization, are “unpredictable illnesses that diminish health status.”
The government has been documenting health shocks in terms of mortality since 1960. The situation is comparable to the effects the Vietnam War and recreational drug use had on the Silent Generation, and the effect the AIDS epidemic had on boomers, the report said.
Depression is on the rise among millennials.
According to a report analyzing data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index, major depression diagnoses are rising at a faster rate for millennials and teens compared with any other age group.
Since 2013, millennials have seen a 47% increase in major-depression diagnoses. The overall rate increased from 3 to 4.4% among 18- to 34-year-olds.
The most prominent symptom of major depression is “a severe and persistent low mood, profound sadness, or a sense of despair,” according to Harvard Medical School.
These findings were underscored by an additional Blue Cross Blue Shield report on millennial health. It analyzed the data of 55 million commercially insured American millennials, defined as people ages 21 to 36 in 2017. It found that major depression had the highest prevalence rate, or the likelihood of a person having a disease, among health conditions affecting millennials.
“Deaths of despair” are also on the rise.
More millennials are also dying “deaths of despair,” or deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide, Jamie Ducharme reported for Time in June, citing a report by the public-health groups Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust.
While these deaths have increased across all ages in the past 10 years, they’ve increased the most among younger Americans, Ducharme said. They accounted for the deaths of about 36,000 American millennials in 2017 alone, according to the report. Drug overdoses were the most common cause of death.
The report cites a few reasons behind these upticks — young adults are more inclined to engage in risk-taking behaviors, comprise the highest number of enrolled military personnel, and disproportionately live in “high-stress environments” like correctional facilities.
Suicide attempts have especially increased among black youths.
Suicide attempt rates for black youths have increased by 73% from 1991 to 2017, wrote clinical psychologist Inger E. Burnett-Zeiggler in an opinion piece for The New York Times, citing a November 2019 Pediatrics study. According to the study, suicide attempts decreased by 7.5% in the same time frame among white adolescents.
From 2001 to 2017, suicide death rates for black boys ages 13 to 19 increased by 60%; for black girls, that’s 182%, according to a study by the Journal of Community Health. Burnett-Zeigler wrote that, in her experience working with black women, childhood abuse and neglect are linked to suicide attempts in their youth.
“Black youths too often receive the messages that their lives are not valued and that they are less deserving of support, nurturing and protection than their peers of other backgrounds,” wrote Burnett-Zeiggler, who’s an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern Medical School.
“Many black youths are often fighting for their lives in a system actively working against them, which can be exhausting and feel like a pointless, uphill battle,” she added.
It’s partly linked to money stress.
But there are other structural factors at play behind the uptick in “deaths of despair,” according to the Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust — namely the myriad financial problems millennials are facing: student-loan debt, healthcare, childcare, and an expensive housing market.
These four costs are part of The Great American Affordability Crisis plaguing millennials that’s putting them financially behind.
Studies have found a correlation between people with debt and mental-health problems. While this research, by its nature, can’t identify causality, the likelihood of having a mental-health disorder is three times higher among those with unsecured debt, according to a meta-analysis, or study of studies, in the Clinical Psychology Review. People who have died by suicide were eight times more likely to have debt.