Millennials & Mental Health
Reviewed by therapist.com team
Millennials are a generational cohort currently consisting of people in their mid-twenties, thirties, and early forties. They are situated between Generation X and Generation Z. Millennials may also be referred to as:
- Generation Y
- Digital natives
- The burnout generation
Most experts agree that the Millennial generation consists of people who were born in the 1980s and mid-1990s. The specific end date for the Millennial generation is still up for debate.
The earliest birth year for the Millennial generation is typically identified as 1981. Final qualifying birth years fluctuate between 1994 and 1996. This is because the date range for Gen Z is still in flux, which is common for generations closest to the present day.
Between generation cutoffs exist microgenerations known as cusper generations. These cusper generations may exhibit characteristics of both larger generational cohorts.
Older Millennials may belong to the Xennial microgeneration, which exists at the cutoff point between Gen X and Millennials. The date range for Xennials typically starts at 1977 and ends between 1983–1985. Xennials have also been called the Oregon Trail generation (after a popular computer game available in most school computer labs in the mid-90s) or “the Lucky Ones”—referring to anything from the 90s economy to being one of the last generations to experience childhood without the internet.
Younger Millennials may fall into the Zillennial microgeneration, which exists at the cutoff point between Millennials and Gen Z. Earliest birth years for Zillennials range from 1992–1995, while the latest is set somewhere between 1998–2000s.
- Race & ethnicity: About 44% of Millennials in the U.S. are nonwhite racial or ethnic minorities, according to 2015 census data analyzed by the Brookings Institution. In particular, percentages of Asian, Hispanic, and mixed racial backgrounds in the Millennial generation have increased compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers.
- Gender & sexuality: A recent Gallup poll shows that about 9% of Millennials identify as LGBTQIA+, with about half of those identifying as bisexual. According to Pew Research Center, about 84% of Millennials believe that same-sex marriage is either good for society (47%) or doesn’t really make a difference (37%). About a quarter of Millennials personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
- Education: Nearly 40% of Millennials have a bachelor’s degree or higher. An additional 28% have at least some college experience (associate degree or college attendance with no degree).
- Wealth: Millennials control only about 5% of household wealth in the U.S., according to 2020 financial data from the Federal Reserve. For comparison, in 1989, when Baby Boomers were around the same age as Millennials today, they controlled about 21% of household wealth.
- Population percentage: 2019 U.S. census data showed that Millennials are now the largest generational cohort, accounting for 22% of the population.
9/11 is perhaps the most formative historic event of the Millennial generation. Most Millennials were between the ages of 10 and 20 when coordinated terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more on September 11, 2011.
Having a personal memory of 9/11—whether of being sent home early from grade school or watching the attacks unfold on live television in a dorm room—is often considered the litmus test for whether a person belongs to the Millennial generation or Gen Z.
The global economic crisis of the late 2000s hit as Millennials were just about to enter the job market. This resulted in inexperienced graduates competing with struggling Gen Xers and Baby Boomers for the same entry-level positions.
Although the Great Recession officially ended in mid-2009, Millennials still feel the effects today: They have fewer savings, more debt, fewer job prospects, lower wages, and lower rates of homeownership than previous generations at similar stages of life.
Before the Great Recession, Millennials had already been through an economic downturn and global panic: Y2K (year 2000).
For many Millennials, the Y2K scare was their first brush with apocalyptic anxiety, or the belief that a once-in-a-generation crisis could cause society to collapse. Soon after the world welcomed the year 2000 without incident, the dotcom bubble burst, leading to a brief recession punctuated by the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
The digital revolution may have officially begun after World War II, but Millennials were the first generation in which digital technology was easily accessible for consumers. From the 1980s onward, technology became personal: first with personal computers, then internet cafes, cell phones, laptops, camera phones, smartphones, social media, video chatting platforms, voice-controlled artificial intelligence, and beyond.
Millennials remember the sweet sounds of dial-up internet and were probably in college by the time they got their first smartphone. They’re the first generation of digital natives.
For Millennials, the COVID-19 pandemic is simply the latest in a string of global catastrophes that have shaped their lives. Many Millennials had to delay major milestones, such as marriage, parenthood, fulfilling careers, and homeownership, after the Great Recession. The pandemic has put many of these hard-fought achievements in jeopardy.
Financially, the pandemic has hit Millennials the hardest compared to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. About half of Millennials have had someone in their household suffer a pay cut or job loss during the pandemic. Millennials also make up generational majorities in the industries that experienced the highest levels of unemployment during the pandemic, such as leisure and hospitality as well as education and health services.
Millennial mothers in particular have struggled: They have been three times as likely to be unable to work than Millennial fathers due to closed schools and child care facilities. More than 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February 2020, many of them Millennial women unable to balance work with parenthood.
Millennials in general are more open to discussing mental health topics and receiving treatment than previous generations. A 2015 survey of Millennials by American University found that 70% felt comfortable seeking help from a counselor. Mental health stigma causes this number to decrease for certain demographic groups, such as men and various racial minorities.
Although Millennials are interested in mental healthcare, significant barriers prevent them from receiving it. More than half of Millennials identified cost as the top challenge to receiving mental healthcare. Still, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 35% of Millennials reported receiving help from a mental health professional.
According to the APA, 56% of Millennials stated that they had excellent or very good mental health. Although this is more than half (unlike Gen Z), it’s significantly lower than Baby Boomers (70%) and older adults (74%).
BlueCross BlueShield found that depression diagnoses for Millennials have increased by 47%. However, it’s important to remember that such a statistic reflects not only increases in depression in the Millennial population at large, but also increases in awareness and accessibility. As stigma around depression decreases and more people have access to mental healthcare providers, rates of diagnosis will naturally increase.
Depression can be caused by many factors, some of which (genetics, brain chemistry) are out of our control. However, external factors can also cause, contribute to, or exacerbate depression. There are many external factors at play that may contribute to higher rates of depression among Millennials, including:
- Global instability: Many Millennials simply never recovered from the Great Recession. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has created another crisis, and irreversible damage due to climate change is on the horizon.
- Delayed milestones: Marriage, homeownership, parenthood, and other milestones remain out of reach for Millennials due to crises outside of their control.
- Debt: Student loans and credit card debt have prevented many Millennials from building wealth at rates similar to previous generations. According to Goldman Sachs, the average balance of student loan debt for 25-year-olds is just over $20,000.
- School shootings: In the 20 years after the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, there were 68 school shootings involving an active shooter, as defined by the FBI. Many Millennials who grew up with school shootings are now sending their children to school under the same threat.
- Burnout: Demands for perfection and longer work hours in the workplace have increased while wages have stagnated, resulting in burnout. In fact, one study found that almost half of millennials reported leaving a job due to mental health concerns.
- Social media: Although social media itself doesn’t cause depression or any other mental illness, it has been correlated with mental health risks. Bullying, comparison, perfectionism, gossip, outrage media, and doomscrolling can result in serious mental health problems. According to Pew Research Center, 86% of Millennials use social media.
One 2016 study found that 14% of Millennials had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, making them the most anxious generation to date. Perfectionism, which is correlated with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, is also on the rise among Millennials as well as Gen Z.
Many of the external factors that contribute to depression also contribute to anxiety. Global instability, debt, burnout, social media, and other concerns can increase a person’s general sense of worry and the need to be vigilant against potential threats.
Many Millennials experience anxiety and confusion over why the actions they were often counseled by older generations to take—going to college, taking out student loans, finding a job, trying to make it as an adult—haven’t resulted in the middle-class lifestyle they were promised.
According to USA Today, Millennials only account for about 25% of adults in the U.S. who are 21 or older. However, they also account for:
- 35% of beer consumption
- 42% of wine consumption
- 32% of spirits consumption
Alcohol deaths among 18–34-year-olds increased 69% from 2007 to 2017, according to a report by Trust for America’s Health in partnership with Well Being Trust. Drug-related deaths increased 108%. From 1999 to 2007, opioid overdose deaths in particular have increased more than 500% among the same age group.
If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please consider the following resources:
It is important to note that generations are socially constructed categories. Specific details about each generation, such as date range, formative historical events, and even the name of the generation itself, are all finalized over time by a mix of expert and public opinion.
The Strauss-Howe generational theory states that generations occur in a four-stage cycle, with each generation lasting around 20–25 years. Each generation corresponds with a “turning,” which is a change in society and culture. The generations that come of age during a specific turning adopt a corresponding archetype.
A typical Strauss-Howe generational cycle would look like this:
- High: Society is functioning as it was built. This turning produces the idealist archetype, also known as the Prophet (currently Baby Boomers and eventually Generation Alpha).
- Awakening: Society begins to question why it was built the way it was and whether or not it actually functions. This turning produces the reactive archetype, also known as the Nomad (currently Gen X).
- Unraveling: Society begins to lose its ability to function as it was built. This turning produces the civic archetype, also known as the Hero (currently Millennials).
- Crisis: Society falls apart and is rebuilt to function in a new way. This turning produces the adaptive archetype, also known as the Artist (currently Gen Z and previously the Silent Generation).
While generations can be helpful ways of understanding others, they have their limits. Too often, generations can be reduced to stereotypes or confused with specific stages of life. Like all socially constructed categories, generations are most useful in the context of other demographics and shared social experiences, such as:
- Age and stage of life
- Race and ethnicity
- Relationship/marital status
- Ability and disability
- Occupation and workplace
- Family of origin
- Experience of pregnancy and/or parenthood
- Income and socioeconomic class
- Religion or faith community
- Immigration experience and/or status
- Physical health history
- Mental health history
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