Millennials are a controversial group. Older generations tend to categorize them as lazy and over-ambitious, inconsiderate and oversensitive, entitled and struggling, the list is neverending. This inundation of conflicting characteristics doesn’t mean that millennials are a mess, but rather that there are countless myths flying around about the generation. Many of these myths are rooted in misconceptions about how millennials view and handle mental health.
Before we dive into a few of these myths, we need to sort out who we’re talking about on this subject. According to guidelines the Pew Research Center recently established, millennials are the generation born between 1981 and 1996, putting them between the ages of 23 and 38. We’ll stick with this definition for our purposes, but keep in mind that anyone slightly younger may also consider themselves a millennial. As mental health is largely about self-perception and personal experience, the myths we discuss could certainly affect those on the lines between the millennial and post-millennial generation.
Myth 1: Millennials are hypersensitive
One of the most pervasive misconceptions about millennials is that they are unfit to handle everyday challenges because their parents coddled them growing up. While millennials may have received more parental support than some generations, what is perceived as millennials’ “hypersensitivity” is actually a more acute self-awareness.
Compared to previous generations, millennials are more in touch with their emotional needs, more vocal about them, and more able to find support for those needs. According to a survey from American University, about 75% of millennials say that they are open to discussing topics regarding mental health, and over 70% are comfortable going to a therapist or counselor.
This comfort with expression could come from the fact that millennials have had access to more information and education on mental health topics than previous generations. Those who came before millennials likely went through the exact same stressors, pressures, and criticisms, but they didn’t have the vocabulary or resources to express these struggles. Moreover, these factors have helped millennials break stigmas surrounding mental health and normalize common care tactics like therapy and taking medication.
Myth 2: Social Media Has Ruined The Mental Health Of Millennials
Many people tend to assume that millennials have been hurt by their overuse of social media. The fact is that everyone has been hurt by the idealistic images that social media platforms circulate.
Scientists have found a linear association between social media platforms, depression, and anxiety, meaning that when you use more social media platforms, you’re more at risk to experience these conditions. While this association is true for anyone using social media, the increased numbers of millennials on social media tend to exacerbate social media’s effect on the generation.
The Pew Research Institute found that 88% of people between 18 and 29 years old are on at least one social media network. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat may seem harmless enough, but they are often vehicles for self-doubt and criticism. Anyone using social media can post the best parts of their life and leave out anything about which they feel self-conscious to create a perfect — but severely skewed — version of their life.
The effects on those scrolling through their feeds are significant. About 42% of women have cited social media as the reason for feeling worse about their bodies. And researchers have found that people of any age or gender have an increased awareness of their own physical ailments if they use Facebook frequently. The picture-perfect lives advertised on apps aren’t just harming millennials, but anyone who picks up a phone and starts scrolling.
Myth 3: Millennials Have Higher Risks For Depression And Anxiety
It is true that studies have found higher rates of anxiety and depression among the millennial generation, but they are at no higher risk than any other generation. As discussed earlier, millennials are more comfortable talking about their mental health and seeking professional help than generations before them.
This willingness to report their own anxiety and depression has translated as millennials taking the title of the most anxious and depressed generation. According to a widely cited study by firm Bensinger, Dupont & Associates, 20% of millennials reported depression in the workplace, more than any other generation. In terms of anxiety, the American Psychiatry Association published a survey that revealed millennials as the most anxious generation, with women and people of color scoring higher on the anxiety scale.
While these numbers accurately point to the struggles millennials face, they create the impression that this generation is the only one facing them. In reality, many baby boomers and Gen Xers suffer from depression and anxiety as well. The stigmas that still exist among members of their generation simply prevent them from reporting their struggles as often as millennials do.
People of all generations are gradually breaking down the many stigmas surrounding mental health as more and more individuals come forward with their personal experiences. With increasing openness and willingness to talk about difficult subjects, millennials have certainly lead the charge in the change. For that, we say thank you, millennials. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.