Why Do So Many Millennials Have Mental Health Issues?

Among the older generations of society, there seems to be a perception that Millennials – young people born between the late 1980s and early 2000s – have it ‘easy’. They cite the huge advances in technology over the past twenty or thirty years as one reason why young people are so much better off: for example, if we have a problem, we can just Google the answer rather than having to spend hours trying to come up with a solution ourselves. Quality of life has generally risen compared to previous decades, and we have easier access to good quality health-care and housing than previous generations. According to these elder voices of wisdom, the reason we young’uns complain so much about not having good jobs or enough money is that we’re lazy, spoiled, or suffering from an acute case of entitlement.

But if Millennials have it so good, why do quite so many of us suffer from mental health issues? In my native UK, a recent survey by the Varkey Foundation suggested that British Millennials have the second worst mental wellbeing in the world. Likewise, in the USA the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that over 5 million college students are currently suffering from some kind of mental health issue. What’s causing this apparent epidemic in mental health crises among the younger generation? As a millennial who’s struggled with anxiety and depression, I can think of two major generation-specific issues that have had a detrimental effect on my mental wellbeing.

Social Media

It may be one of the most prominent technical advances of the last decade, but social media is also quite possibly the worst for our mental health. The majority of Millennials are users of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, where people post highly filtered evidence of how great their life allegedly is. If you’re feeling down, there’s nothing worse than checking one of these sites to find that everyone you know is apparently out having fun while you’re stuck at home thanks to depression. Even if you don’t suffer from a pre-existing mental health condition, the nature of social media means that you’ll constantly be comparing yourself to everyone else, and that’s never healthy. Whose self-esteem wouldn’t suffer after being bombarded by apparent evidence of other people achieving more or looking better than you?

The most insidious thing about social media, however, is just how fake it really is. People are never actually as perfectly happy as their profiles make out: they only talk about the highs, and rarely the lows. If you compare yourself to the person you see in these posts, you’re trying to be like someone who doesn’t really exist. Their online presence will have been carefully crafted to present their best self at all times, but in the real world, nobody can work at 100% all of the time. No wonder young people are growing more and more dissatisfied with themselves when they’re constantly striving to meet the unreachable standards presented on social media. On top of that, it’s incredibly difficult to stop those kinds of thoughts from creeping in, and near impossible to stop using these sites altogether: there’s a constant fear that you’ll miss out on the news, gossip, or private messages if you switch off your phone for a day. It’s a vicious circle that many Millennials are trapped in, and that previous generations just didn’t have to deal with.

24/7 News Coverage

This might seem like quite an unusual thing to be a trigger of mental health issues in young people, but hear me out. It’s pretty clear that we live in a tumultuous world full of conflicts and crises. Not a day goes by without various countries arguing, North Korea threatening someone or other with nuclear destruction, some kind of terrorist incident occurring, or another form of tragedy making global headlines. You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to become utterly terrified about the state of the world within five seconds of turning on any news program. Imagine how those of us who do suffer from anxiety or panic feel!

While I imagine bad news has been a source of anxiety for decades, if not centuries, the modern world has made things a little bit worse. We now have 24/7 news coverage, where various pundits and ‘experts’ analyze every single little thing that happens for hours on end. This doesn’t just happen on television: the news is all over social media and is the subject of numerous apps. You can’t escape it: I even get push notifications whenever anything major occurs. I’ve tried disabling it, but my phone still somehow manages to tell me all of the day’s most dreadful events. I’ve started to get a sense of dread whenever I see a notification from the News app. We Millennials can’t just bury our head in the sand and try to get on with our days despite all of the awful things happening in the world: bad news finds us eventually. No wonder our mental health is suffering.

I think it’s important to note at this point that I’m not trying to downplay the mental health issues of non-Millennials. Anyone of any age can suffer from these kinds of conditions, and everyone is worthy of sympathy and support. However, it’s undeniable that Millennials are a demographic that is really struggling with their mental wellbeing. While I’ve mentioned two potential reasons for this here, the full picture is undoubtedly much more complex than I can express. It’s time we addressed this issue, and time we offered young people the mental health support that they so clearly need.  

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash