Generation Why: The Millennial Struggle to Find Meaning
From anxiety to depression to ennui, millennials continue to struggle with mental health issues. Anxiety and depression are by far the most-diagnosed among the college-age generation. But listlessness, boredom and a struggle to find meaning — conditions that do not necessarily fall under mental illness — all contribute to the tide of struggles facing Generation Y. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among millennials, and many are beginning to ask: What factors are contributing to these problems, and what can be done to help?
One of the most profound changes between Gen X and Gen Y is the coincidental eve of social media. While Gen X was widely established in the workforce by the time platforms like Facebook and Twitter started taking off, the millennials were younger — many just entering high school or middle school — and became acquainted with the platforms from a much younger age. In fact, this generation experienced some of the most turbulent technology advances in the history of humankind.
With social media, millennials experienced the first taste of constructed online personas. Given the massive amount of time spent on social media each week — more than six hours for most millennials — the struggle to find a healthy balance between online presence and physical presence became apparent for the first time. Interestingly, Generation X spends more time on social media than millennials, which calls into question the exact impact of these platforms.
Psychological studies have repeatedly concluded that the early developmental years are an incredibly significant time in a human’s life. The ages of six to eight years, in particular, carry the some of the most portentous personality-defining questions like “Who am I?” and “What do I need?” These questions will frame the child’s mentality for years to come.
This is also the time in a child’s life when competition begins for the first time. Sports, clubs and other social and competitive activities all rise alongside schoolwork, creating a hectic time for any kid. For millennials, whose parents understood how stressful competition could be, this meant what many have come to dub “consolation prizes.” Boxes of trophies distributed to every team member at the end of the game, participation awards made from the same material as the first-place prize.
Many psychologists have postulated how this element has impacted Generation Y. Some hold that it has oversaturated a child’s life with praise: Trophies are distributed, even after a poor performance on the field, and the child becomes convinced that mediocrity is praise-worthy. If this is the case, it is no surprise that millennials stress out when they finally enter the workforce. After all, no employer will praise — or even retain — a worker whose performance is below company standards.
This abrupt change from a mindset that has been reinforced since an exceedingly early age — a mindset contingent on constant, unconditional praise — may be one cause for tremendous stress.
Prescription meds are on the rise. This is true across almost all generations: The middle-aged working class is hooked on pain meds, the baby boomers are falling victim to sedatives and the millennial generation has a particular issue with drugs like Xanax, Klonopin and Adderall. Part of this is the pressure on doctors to prescribe this medication when faced with anxious patients. Xanax is very effective at reducing stress levels, but it can easily lead to substance abuse.
While the meds can help in the short term, reliance on any substance is still seen as deviant behavior and socially pressures users. This can, in turn, lead to a vicious cycle of further substance abuse, mainly when that substance includes stress-reducing features.
Overwork leads to burnout. When a worker gives it their all, day after day, week after week, and doesn’t feel properly acknowledged for their performance, burnout occurs. Exhaustion — kept at bay by the belief that the next promotion is on its way, that Employee of the Month is within reach — sets in. The worker has trouble finding meaning in their work, tends to slack off and miss deadlines and fails to perform up to standards.
In the difficult economy and job landscape that we are currently seeing, the workplace can be a difficult transition. Job hunting, in fact, often represents the first true challenge to the millennial worker: What happens when he or she is passed up for job after job, despite fitting the qualifications? For those millennials who understand that they must work for their praise and validation, that becomes the chief motivating factor during work.
Millennials tend to overwork more than any other generation, and experience anxiety and depression alongside a meteoric burnout when they feel unrecognized for their work.
All of these factors only scratch the surface. To accurately investigate the generational woes of Generation Y, extensive research into all elements of development, internal conditions and external influences would need to be completed. Of course, this isn’t entirely realistic, and there will always be some factors overlooked or misunderstood.
Still, millennials are a generation replete with problems, ranging from heightened stress and anxiety, depression, substance abuse and difficulty in the workplace. While researchers are perhaps beginning to scratch the surface regarding why this is, we should definitely be talking about this more and delving into the meat of the issue so that we can avoid allowing similar problems to plague our children and future generations.