Why So Lonely? Millennials and Mental Health

Recently, millennials—those born between 1981and 1996—have been changing the way people discuss mental health. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI),  millennials have become the primary generation who advocates for mental health issues. Millennials often struggle with burnout faster than other generations because of working longer hours (thanks to being connected to the phone all the time) and some still working their way to pay off college debt. Added to this has been the sudden impact of COVID-19, where many people have had to pivot in how they work or employers had to completely shut down operations, thus creating mass layoffs. Though dealt with some bleak situations, the persistence of the millennial generation in bringing mental health awareness into a broader discussion about healthcare could help destigmatize mental health issues for future generations. But why is this generation seemingly more prone to depression and what lesson can be learned from this?

Health Shock

Millennials are seeing their physical and mental health decline at a faster rate than Generation X (born between 1977 and 1985) due to health shock. As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), a health shock is an “unpredictable illnesses that diminish health status.” According to the NCBI, there could be a significant uptick in mortality in millennials compared with Gen Xers of the same age without proper treatment. Among the key factors causing this are behavioral health issues, such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance use. These health shocks among millennials have been likened to the effects that the Vietnam War had on the silent generation and the impact that AIDS had on the baby boomers.

Depression and Anxiety

Because anxiety is linked with depression, some argue that depression among millennials is related to work burnout. The financial strain of working long hours for stagnant pay has taken its toll. Additionally, most millennials graduated from college to enter a declining workforce economy. For many, this despair, coupled with massive student loan debt and not working in the field they want, has hindered homeownership dreams and having a family, dreams that have been promised and fulfilled for prior generations. As a result, anxiety among millennials is high due to financial stress, which causes psychological distress as the brain undergoes acute inflammation reaction responses to constant economic hardship. This also contributes to difficulty with friends and family members, causing conflict and triggering depression and anxiety.

The Lonely Generation?

Millennials have been referenced as the lonely generation because most millennials have reported feeling alone. According to a poll by YouGov, millennials have surpassed Generation X and baby boomers as the loneliest generation, with 30% of millennials stating that they often feel alone. This averages 1 in 5 millennials expressing that they have no friends, no close friends and no best friends.

Social Media & Loneliness

Could social media be a primary cause of all this loneliness? Millennials who utilize social media and the internet more frequently could be making themselves feel lonely in the process. Because the internet lacks in-person connections, people who are frequently scrolling may begin to compare themselves to others’ lives that they see portrayed in social media. Even when those on social media misrepresent themselves, the psychological effects on others are real. This is because social media places a great deal of pressure on those who have not yet accomplished what their peers or fellow millennials have. Amid the pandemic, social media has been a primary outlet for all generations. While it is too early to predict, if social media is used in this way, there could be a rise in depression among all ages.

Loneliness and Mental Health

Loneliness is among the primary effects for depression because it leads to isolation. Even when surrounded by others, someone can feel lonely. This internal feeling could be related to low self-esteem. Loneliness can lead to poor dietary choices, a decline in physical health, poor decision making and substance use. Substance use in high volumes, whether over a short period and an extended amount of time, could further perpetuate brain disorders, leading to irreversible negative behaviors.

Creating Awareness

While the millennial generation has faced a lot of adversity, this has allowed a more open dialogue about mental health. Because the millennial generation has been at the forefront of this discussion, it’s created more societal awareness. When more people of every generation begin to understand mental health disorders, this can help normalize it and allow individuals to seek help.


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