Millennials, those who were born between 1981 and 1996 grew up in an age where the internet was still largely unregulated. They experienced extreme global events like the World Trade Center attacks, the 2009 recession, and tumultuous political and financial milestones.
However, like all generations, millennials have unique approaches to mental health that other generations may not immediately understand. How does the millennial response to depression differ from their predecessors (Gen X, Baby Boomers) or those who came after them (Gen Z)? How can you better understand the millennial in your life, especially if you suspect they may suffer from poor mental health?
How Millennials Differ from Other Generations
The internet has completely altered our lives in pretty much every aspect of modern society, from how we shop to how we work to how we communicate with one another. The average millennial can remember when the internet was still in its infancy, and many were raised on AOL chatrooms and MSN Messenger. Their parents still didn’t know enough about the World Wide Web to be too concerned, and many millennials were primarily raised on Myspace, memes, and internet folklore.
As millennials grew up, their communication and ability to connect with others remained largely online. Where their predecessors may have read the local paper or watched the evening news, the average millennial has spent most of their life inundated with oft traumatic stories from around the world. This, combined with a consistently tumultuous governmental and financial landscape, the increase in global awareness, and the rampant rise in political polarization, has undoubtedly impacted the majority, if not all, millennials.
The internet largely shaped the millennial approach to mental health as well. While many of their parents balked at therapy or the need to focus on mental health, the average millennial gained more exposure and acceptance of mental health therapy through media, the internet, and online communities. While millennials and Gen Z indicate higher rates of depression than their predecessors, they are also more empowered to do so and have the language and social acceptance to communicate this inner turmoil.
How to Identify Depression in Millennials
So, how can you identify if the millennial in your life is experiencing a depressive disorder? There are warning signs to look for if you are worried about a loved one. These are some of the most prominent warning signs for millennials who may be experiencing depression.
Escapism – Many millennials will turn to the myriad distractions available in modern society to avoid dealing with their mental health. This could look like binge-watching Netflix, spending excessive amounts of time on video games, hyper-fixating on online communities, or any activity that distracts from important, healthy activities of daily life.
Addictive behaviors – People often mask depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders through drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, shopping, and other compulsive consumption. If you find that the millennial in your life is drinking or smoking marijuana to excess, or participating in other risky behaviors, this could be a sign that they are attempting to self-medicate their depressive symptoms.
Sleeping too much or not enough – Poor sleep hygiene is a significant indicator of depression. If somebody is spending all of their free time sleeping, doesn’t seem to sleep enough, or has an erratic sleep schedule (for example, staying up all night and sleeping all day), this could indicate that they are dealing with a depressive disorder. Fatigue and feeling tired all the time are also common signs to look out for.
Feelings of hopelessness – Millennials often have a wry, ironic sense of humor, and macabre jokes are not uncommon among the demographic. These “jokes” may indicate something more profound. If the millennial in your life is talking or joking about feeling depressed or hopeless, it may be more serious than it initially seems.
Poor self-care – Weight loss or gain, a disheveled appearance, and a messy environment are just some of the signs that your loved one is struggling with depression. Those with Major Depressive Disorder or other related mental health disorders regularly neglect their basic needs out of feeling too lethargic or disinterested in caring for themselves.
How to Help A Millennial Who May Have Depression
The first thing you can do if you have a loved one in your life who you suspect has depression is to simply ask them. Ask how things are going, ask if they feel hopeless or have suicidal ideation. These difficult conversations are often a lot easier than we think they might be. The symptoms you’re concerned about might be related to other things, like their sardonic humor may be just that, or their sleep dysregulation could be due to another factor you hadn’t considered. Having a frank and open conversation with your loved one is the best way to let them know you care and are worried about them.
If you are concerned about saying the wrong thing or don’t feel comfortable having this conversation, you can always consult a mental health professional. There are specialists who can help you come up with a game plan for your loved one, coach you through starting the conversation, and help you identify local resources to give them.
If you are worried that something is off with your millennial loved one, trust your intuition and take action. Start the conversation with them (or start with a trained professional) today. They will know that a loved one is concerned and supportive of them. Your attempts to connect with them may change their life. If you are in the San Diego area, Contact Confidential Recovery today if you’re in the San Diego area, you can contact me directly at (619) 993-2738. If you’re elsewhere in the United States, contact the NAMI mental health helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman is a high-profile expert on addiction and recovery, making frequent public and media appearances for the last 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic, and the Founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient addiction treatment program in San Diego substance that specializes in helping Veterans and First Responders get and stay sober.