Raising Generation ‘M’ - Millennials and Mental Health

Every generation is shaped by the world they grow up in. Millennials are the first generation to grow up amidst fast-arriving waves of technology – the internet, smartphones, social media and now even virtual reality.

With all of this, it’s no surprise that millennials are called the ‘Anxious Generation’, or that mental health issues are the highest among millennials than previous generations. A lot of people find it easy to just write them off as ‘lazy’ or ‘entitled’ while forgetting that this is a generation of highly enthusiastic, entrepreneurial, collaborative, global-minded youngsters, who’re using every tool at their disposal to change the world. The fact that the world takes a much higher toll on their mental health is an issue that we all need to understand and work on addressing.   

A 2017 study found that perfectionism is more prevalent among millennials than any other generation. According to this study, millennials deal with ‘multidimensional perfectionism’, which means that they feel the pressure to measure up to an increasing number of criteria. Millennials are expected to have the perfect body, the perfect grades, the perfect career path, to always be ‘on’, and there is a lot of pressure on them from their parents, teachers, employers, and friends to meet that. Striving to reach impossible standards increases the risk of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, among others.   

According to the Pew Research Institute, 88% of 18- to 29-year-olds are on some kind of social network, and they have found a linear association between social media platforms and both anxiety and depression. Social media is not avoidable anymore, and increased social pressures cultivate feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. Prolonged exposure to this gives rise to a host of mental health concerns. Apart from this, there is also the fact that these digital social experiences are actually fueling the growth of loneliness - social life becomes a ‘performance’ more than a genuine ‘experience’.   

Perhaps the biggest difference between the way millennials and other generations experience the world is in the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty they deal with on a day to day basis. While generations before have had to deal with bad economies and world wars, the stakes are much higher when we consider the impact of world events on the social psyche of millennials. They face more academic competition, carry the burden of student loans, are highly underpaid or struggle in an overcompetitive job market, have to live a world with alarming ecological and geopolitical changes. While they have the world at their fingertips, thanks to their innate gift for using technology, they also feel the immense weight of the world more strongly than any other generation before them.   

The silver lining in this situation is that millennials are also the generation that is most open to issues around mental health. According to a study conducted by American University in Washington, 75% of millennials say they are open to discussing mental health topics. This is probably because they grew up hearing about mental health topics and see more instances of it in their social circles. This means that engaging in a dialogue with millennials about mental health issues and ways to improve them would be more effective, compared to previous generations that carried more stigma around mental health.  

Given that 20% of millennials deal with a mental health concerns, helping them cope with and overcome them is going to be a key challenge for educators, employers and even parents. For employers, the most critical step is to create mental health positive workplaces that understand the need for mindfulness practices, mental health days, and mental health first aid training. Educators must also equip themselves to prepare students for the impact of the world on their mental health, with an added focus on mental adaptability and resilience. Parents and caregivers need to form solid support systems for millennials to help them deal with the stress and pressure. Millennials are changing the world before our very eyes, and as the generation that raised them, I think it is imperative that we turn all attention to helping them cope with mental health concerns that will otherwise hold them back. 

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