Here’s why over millennials struggle with mental health issues
I was on the phone with my mom recently talking about my anxiety when she mentioned that three of my first cousins also had it. We joked that if she had admitted to being nervous about something when she was younger, she would have been told, “You’re too young to be nervous.
She and her seven siblings would have been swept away, and not because her parents were mean. It was just like that. My mom’s generation, the baby boomers, didn’t discuss her feelings. I guess they bottled it all up or made up for it in some other way.
So why are so many millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) anxious?
Fact: Anxiety was not recognized as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1980, so I understand the resistance of older generations to seeing it as a real illness, but it does affects more than 40 million Americans. It is a serious and widespread disorder.
The American Psychological Association reports that 12% of Millennials have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder – nearly double the percentage of Baby Boomers diagnosed the same. A 2018 report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association showed that diagnoses of mental disorders had increased by 33% since 2013, and millennials made up 47% of that figure.
Some argue that Millennials have witnessed more tragedies than other generations, like watching the Challenger explode and seeing the Twin Towers fall. Millennials have also seen two major economic collapses and skyrocketing student loan costs. I’ve heard people say millennials are weak and spoiled (I see you rolling your eyes). I can’t dispute the spoiled part, but many of us have accepted to be vulnerable and genuine in how we feel and struggle.
It is not a weakness. It takes a strong person to share their difficulties and be open about what they are going through.
It wasn’t easy for me to clearly articulate my major depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorder personality, and suicidal thoughts. It was not easy as the stigma of depression (and other mental disorders) is still rife in the United States.
This stigma is what kept me silent during my struggles, which only made it worse. It’s lonely when you’re battling an illness you can’t talk about. Even more lonely when you are ridiculed for your experiences.
So, no, Millennials aren’t weak and Baby Boomers / Gen Xers aren’t stronger at keeping their issues to themselves. These generations have learned to keep it to themselves. This is what they knew and how they coped. Not to sound condescending, but they didn’t know any better.
But now we know better. We have evolved, not as much as I would like, but we are getting there.
It is no coincidence that so many of my cousins suffer from severe anxiety. Obviously there is a genetic component, but what else is involved? Personally, my parents never told me to suck. But somewhere along the way we were taught to pursue a certain image (i.e. being skinny or having it all together). This ideal did not include recognizing mental illness, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, etc. Maybe that’s why I stayed silent for so long.
It’s good to know that I am not a genetic defect (although this is debatable) as it can be isolating for fighting anxiety on its own. I am in good company – my cousins are all successful, kind, empathetic and loving women who fight as hard as I do on a daily basis. I fervently want us to share our adventures and support each other and others who are struggling.
It’s the hallmark of our generation – strength and empathy.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to the nearest emergency room.
For over 20 years, Heather Loeb has suffered from major depression, anxiety and personality disorder, while battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Representative Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Task Force.
More than ever, we need to take care of our mental health. Opinion contributor Heather Loeb explains why and explores other important mental health topics in this special series.