A lot has been said about the millennial generation. Some have called the generation both too apathetic or too sensitive. Others have praised the generation for their innovativeness and their ability to constantly recreate themselves. But one thing is for sure about the millennial generation—it is a generation obsessed with their health. Most millennials are well-versed in basic nutritional information and have experience in following at least one of the more recent dietary trends intended to ‘detoxify’ or ‘cleanse’ our systems. They are savvy and careful about what they consume, whether it’s in regards to organic fruits or various dairy alternatives. And with the aid of technology, millennials are able to track down to the heartbeat their body’s wellness. But then with all of this information and aid at their fingertips, why are millennials so depressed? According to a 2018 Blue Shield overall health report, diagnoses of major depression have risen by 33% since 2013 with the rate rising even faster among millennials, up to 47%. Why for a generation so obsessed with health and wellness, are depression levels not only high but on the rise?
The most popular and common scapegoat used when trying to explain this rise in depression is to point a finger at social media. And for good reason. There have been countless studied reasons to show how social media can negatively affect a person’s mental wellness, leading to depression or anxiety:
-social media provides the illusion of a better life
Carefully curated social media photos make us think that everyone ‘out there’ are living their #bestlife and we are missing out. It implicitly has us searching and waiting for the ‘better life,’ leading many to be unsatisfied with where they are in life, even if it is a good spot to be in. We become depressed by thinking we are living a less than ideal life.
-social media implicitly encourages comparison with one’s own life to another’s
This comparison runs the gamut in social circles. Sure, it can mean seeing photos of someone’s amazing trip to Greece and wondering why you couldn’t do something similar. How come I can’t travel there? But it also can mean seeing a mommy friend make an impossibly beautiful homemade lunch while juggling two toddlers and a career. How come I can’t manage that? It can mean a bodybuilder seeing a fitness model lift weights wearing an expensive line of fitness wear. How come I can’t afford that? Whatever circle you happen to run in, social media will find a way for you to compare your life to others.
-social media provides pressure to always show the best of one’s life
Nobody wants to showcase the negative online. We learn to vet through our own lives and to clear out the messy, the complicated, the unglamorous. We showcase only what will be celebrated. This can lead to a feeling akin to performative art. We aren’t just living our lives. We are performing it for likes and follows and only the best parts of our lives are worth those likes.
-social media provides constant content, making one feel trapped
Once you are tuned in, the hole can go deep. Content is always being added. There are always new photos, threads, or videos to fall into. And once you find yourself in the thick of it, it can feel impossible to get out. The content fills up your world and to separate yourself from it feels like a separation from a part of your body.
As much as some people might like to still mock millennials for being so obsessed with social media, it has now recognizably become an indispensable part of our lives. Many job sites ask potential candidates for their social media handles. And current employees of companies can be disciplined or fired for an ill-written tweet or post. Networking is done largely through social media now and a fluency in the social media language is a crucial job skill to master. It has also now totally bridged the gap in communication. It spans generations and locations. It would be as hard to remove yourself from social media as it is easy to blame it as the root cause for millennial depression. Even decades in, this is still new media. It is still the frontier days of social media with all of us still figuring out what and how this kind of constant exposure will affect people. There are yet no universally set and accepted protocols on how to protect our mental health from using social media. It is on us to navigate that new field and many of us may find ourselves struggling to figure out that elusive healthy balance.
A more concrete cause for the rise in millennial depression is the economy. This cause has measurable statistics and hard data thanks to the 2008 economic crash. Before 2008, income was already stagnating. Housing prices were on the rise and educational costs were often more than tripling in price. When the 2008 collapse happened, many millennials were just finishing college and getting out into the world to start their careers. But what they found was a world on fire. Businesses were downsizing left and right, nobody was hiring. Starting positions became unpaid internships, full time positions became part time. Many millennials soon found themselves back at home with college degrees but no jobs to show for it.
To make ends meet, to pay back all their student loans, many millennials were forced into taking a slew of part time jobs or gigs to make up the salary of one full time job. When the tech industry responded to the need of so many unemployed millennials by creating app based gigs–the gig economy–the labor industry changed forever. In the early years of the recession, the gig economy was a godsend for many. It allowed people to work on any schedule, for as long or as short of a time as they needed to. But now, as our economy works its way back up, the effects of the gig economy and its working model has forever changed the way even traditional companies hire and promote their employees. Companies have seen better, quicker returns in cycling through new employees rather than keeping expensive senior employees. No longer is there any promise of security or stability. It is expected that everyone must jump from job to job to gain promotions or pay rises. Working in the gig economy also means there are no set working hours, a benefit in the beginning but now a burden. Many millennials don’t work the traditional 9-5. There are many who are working on the clock at all hours or are expected to be available to work at any hour.
But even as our economy slowly rises, there was a whole class of millennials who missed out crucial years to build their resumes and careers. Once businesses were able to start hiring again, they didn’t go back to hire the people they missed in 2008; they moved on and hired the class of 2012. Constant but unstable work with the stress of not being able to plan for a future give many millennials no certainty, no stability. Years of this kind of worrying can definitely lead to depression and overall poor mental health.
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Another and probably simplest reason as to why depression may be on the rise is simply because millennials are more capable of recognizing depressive symptoms and are more open to discussing it publicly. As mentioned before, they are the wellness generation and they recognize that mental health is part of overall wellness. They view mental health differently than their parents’ generation—it is much less stigmatized and taboo. In a 2015 study by American University found millennials to be more accepting of those with mental illness and are more open to talk about the issues themselves. Therapy is talked about more openly and through technology, there are several mental health apps that help provide accessible mental health therapy to a wider reach of people. Social media has also helped to de-stigmatize and normalize depression and mental health. While too much social media can be bad, there are also many benefits of being able to connect with thousands with a single touch. Popular hashtags like #myfavoritemeds took off with people posting what kind of mental health medication they were on and how it has helped them. Of course, this alone couldn’t be the sole reason as to the rise in depression rates amongst millennials. But it can encourage many who are suffering to see others talk about mental health more openly. It can allow for people to recognize what their pain is and to be able to name it and hopefully find treatment for it.
Depression is a difficult beast to wrangle and for some, it remains a lifetime battle. For the millennial generation, so many unique factors collided together to create a chaotic and crazy environment for them to come of age in. When things feel so out of hand and so unstable, it is easy to feel depressed and anxious. It is understandable why so many of the millennial generation currently feel this way. Understanding the general why and the how of depression can help but the best thing to do is to find help, whether that be therapy or medication or a combination of both. There are so many options today in finding help. There are the tried and true methods of in person counseling, whether individually or through group. But there are also apps now that allow for virtual counseling such as TalkSpace, allowing you to receive therapy anywhere at any time. And therapist themselves have also become more adaptive to technology with some creating Twitter or Instagram accounts offering short advice or tips on dealing with depression or anxiety. There are a wide variety of ways in which to receive help–they key is to reach for it.