I know you must be tired of hearing this right? Anxiety rates are on the rise for this particular age group. Anxiety is becoming a crisis in America as more and more people admit to having anxiety issues. This generation more than any other are suffering from anxiety at more and more alarming rates. It’s all over the media and the internet. While, I’m sure you know the media’s tendency to sensationalize things to generate ratings and some of the numbers may be exaggerated; I believe the overall intent is still accurate. I believe that the evidence pointing to the rising rates of anxiety is accurate but not for the reason you may think. This generation of adults typically age 22-37 or born between 1981 and 1996 are the first generation to openly admit to their struggle with anxiety and even seek help in the form of counseling.
Before now and still a little today counseling carried a large negative stigma and was often a dirty word no one spoke about in public. If you went to counseling you rarely spoke about it, for fear of being called “crazy”, if you even sought help outside of your direct realm of influence or those around you at all. Most often suffered in silence for fear of the stigma placed on mental health treatment. The media helped paint this portrait of counseling in the past and it is the media as well as the work of several leading counseling in the field today that are attempting to change the inherent stigma that has been associated with counseling. Counseling or even seeking help from professionals is no longer a dirty word or seen as a weakness. This is the first generation of individuals who are not ashamed to admit their failings or their struggles and who are actively seeking help in managing their symptoms. It is this generation, my generation, as yes, I am a millennial, that has been able to come forth out of the darkness of mental illness placed on them by generations that came before and seek to better their daily existence by working on their symptoms in counseling.
I am not, by any means, saying that millennials are without fault or don’t have their failings as a generation as most generations do but they are the fortunate ones to be present during this revolution of counseling of sorts. They have been pioneering the way for future generations in stating, “This is what we’re dealing with and this is what we’re doing about it”. Millennials are the generation of 9/11, we are the first generation old enough to have lived through and remember that awful day on 9/11/2000. We are the first that are introduced to the onset of the newest technological age but still remember the “better times” of rotary phones, landlines and going trick or treating without the fear of our candy being tampered with. And dare I mention the economic downturn of 2008. Personally, for someone who graduated college in 2009 and entered the job force expectantly only to have my dreams dashed by the status of the economy was a shock to say the least. There I was with a Bachelor’s degree working in retail; it was unacceptable. Between terrorism, economic depression, job instability and not being able to retire thrown into the greatest advances in technology we’ve ever seen is there any wonder that millennials are anxious or suffering from anxiety?
Let’s not forget that even the DSM or Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders did not even recognize anxiety until the 1980’s, the same time this generation began. The DSM while being the Manual for mental health professionals is also subject to trends and has adapted accordingly. It was in 1980 that anxiety became relevant to the mental health field so study of it beforehand was lacking. An example of current trends in mental health can be seen in the newest adaptation of the DSM or the DSM 5. Some changes include categorizing Autism on a spectrum instead of individual diagnoses and separating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from where it previously rested in the anxiety section and giving it a section of its own as more and more individuals suffer from PTSD and the range of experiences that can result from PTSD broadens. But I digress. So even the study of anxiety amped up with the onset of this generation.
I’d like to revisit the job market, as that is one area of major anxiety driven symptoms for this generation. We are the first generation in American history to not have the job security of generations past. The average millennial only holds a job for 4 years or less as job hopping is common. The reasons for job hopping include the search for affordable health benefits, a virtual myth, higher pay, or greater flexibility with time. It’s a fact of life now that no company is loyal to their employees and if given the choice of downsizing a perfectly acceptable employee to save their bottom line it’s not really a choice at all. So if the company is not loyal to the employee then why should the employee be loyal to the company? But what does this do to the average millennial age 30, looking into retirement? It can cause some anxiety as not only are we not making enough money to put away for retirement, as other options are available to us outside of the elusive 401K tied to a specific company, but we will more than likely not have the luxury of social security, a quickly dying resource. And to top it all of they just pushed the retirement age back from 65 to 70. Lack of job stability, of financial stability is a great cause of anxiety and stress for this generation as we face the world of rising housing costs, food costs, and even daycare we can’t afford.
I could go on about jobs but I won’t. Let’s move on to student loans. My reaction to working in retail after graduating in 2009 was getting another degree. It was pretty much the only option for me where I was living at the time. Along comes student loans to help pay for it. My middle class family could contribute nothing to my education so I had to come up with a way to do that myself. I, like many others in this generation, are now saddled with outrageous amounts of student loan debt. I originally assumed I would die with this debt at the rate I’m paying it off now, thanks to my income based repayment plan, but that may mean I can not ever own my own home. That’s right, instead of a mortgage I have student loans. It’s normal for someone around my age to want to plant roots somewhere and start to build some equity in the form of owning a home and the reality that I may be forced to rent for the rest of my life because I choose to further my education is stressful. It’s probably for the best anyway, since I can’t expect to hold a job for more than 4 years anyway. How am I supposed to continue to pay on my mortgage for 30 years like that? Again instability is the new norm and home ownership has gone with previous generations. Just take a look at the rising foreclosure rate as well as the drop in the housing market as proof.
What about climate change? I believe I heard something on CNN that they are no longer going to be giving airtime to those individuals that say climate change is a myth due to the overabundance of data pointing in the opposite direction. I, for one, never doubted the global warming and it’s effects on our climate but what does that really mean for us? After living through Hurricane Harvey in Houston in 2017, one of the worst hurricanes to hit this region in over 25 years and hearing about the devastating earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters around the world and the large death tolls they brought with them; the evidence of what climate change really means is starting to become a reality. It’s blistering hot summers in Texas and uncharacteristically cold winters. But it’s more than that. Even from one day to the next we’re looking at temperature changes that differ more than 15-20 degrees this week alone! And with the birth of my first child I now wonder about the condition of the world he will grow up in. Him and others of his generation will be left behind to clean up the damage wrought on this earth by all the generations before him and that scares me.
With the rise of the millennial generation comes the rise of the Golden age of anxiety. Is there any wonder why millennials are admitting to and even suffering from higher rates of anxiety than ever before? Between technological advances, job instability, the yolk of student loans, the myths of affordable health care and home ownership and the fact of climate change thrown into the mix we were destined to board the anxiety train. And while we are taking that train for a ride and as we slowly creep toward old age, the realization that we may never be able to retire hits us in the forehead. Here’s to working until we’re 80, the new life expectancy in the US. By the time we’re that age, assuming you change jobs approximately every 4 years and started working at age 20, we’ll have had 15 jobs in our lifetime! Talk about diversification.
All snide comments and sarcasm aside. I does sound pretty bleak for our generation but if you do suffer from the symptoms of anxiety, please find a professional to help you work through your symptoms to find some relief. You have more than enough reasons to worry or be anxious, but you don’t have to live that way any longer. There are those out there who are qualified to help you work through your symptoms and bring them down to a more manageable level. Counseling is no longer a “dirty” word so use the health insurance you may or may not have the luxury of having and get the help you need today. For those without insurance there are self pay options on a sliding fee scale.