Depression in millennials is a growing topic of concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 60% of millennials experience depression or anxiety on a regular basis, and that number keeps increasing. What’s more, nearly 16% of millennials struggling with mental health issues report needing therapy services but not receiving any.
The majority of adults are overwhelmed by the state of the world right now. Overwhelm can result in shutting down, because we feel powerless to change anything. And when we feel powerless to change our circumstances, it leads to depression. This is a shitty cycle that leads nowhere. In my work with millennials, we work together to break that cycle. Depression treatment requires feeling empowered and connected in your life. These things take time, but it’s important to start working toward actionable goals so you can feel in control of your life.
So what’s causing so much millennial depression? And what can you do about it?
You were probably told throughout your childhood that if you did x, y, and z, you’d be able to own a home, have a successful career, and create a healthy family. The path to success in life was fairly straightforward: go to school, find a fulfilling career path, and work a steady job. But then many of you graduated straight into an economic recession. And everything started to change. Suddenly, the baby boomer ideals you were raised with no longer held up in the modern world.
Essentially, a lot of millennials feel they’ve been duped by society and have no say in the matter. More recently, global events like the Covid-19 pandemic have had a huge impact on millennials. Meanwhile, events closer to home also feel chaotic and difficult to manage.
Growing concerns about the ineffectiveness of our country’s leadership have led to mental health issues for millennials. Many millennials feel that our two-party political system is damaged beyond repair. Older generations in power are making decisions that are catastrophic for younger generations. It feels unfair, ineffective, and even dangerous to the majority of voters. Regardless of your political beliefs, you probably feel that the system is not working the way it should.
Social justice issues are also linked to millennial depression. It can be very easy to feel like the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Many millennials don’t know how to properly engage with these issues other than to feel angry and helpless. Many millennials are slowly starting to wake up to the fact that these issues are systemic and deeply baked into our country’s legacy. They also feel angry that leadership continues to do nothing to help solve these problems.
Cost of living and financial insecurity are some of the biggest problems millennials face. These factors can feel entirely out of your control. Many millennials I work with are saddled by debt and can’t imagine a future in which they’re debt-free. And whether you rent or are trying to buy a home, housing prices are unbelievably high. Breaking free from financial insecurity feels like a fever dream to many millennials.
Social media is another reason for the increase in mental health issues among millennials. Too much social media is widely linked to depression. It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap, to doomscroll, and to distract yourself from other pressing issues by watching reel after reel. Impulse buys on social media ads can even cause financial problems for many millennials. Plus, millennials are constantly bombarded by bad news on social media. It feels very hard to know how to engage and what to do to help. It can be difficult and scary to take breaks from apps like Instagram, but studies have shown that cutting back on social media decreases mental health problems.
Loneliness and disconnection are two other big players in the millennial depression endemic. In a post-pandemic world, many people work from home and are completely separated from coworkers. What’s more, some people don’t have relationships with their neighbors or community members, and may not have close friendships. Dating and making friends as an adult is hard. Plus, since the start of covid, social anxiety is rampant among millennials.
Finally, fears about climate change and the future of the world are big problems millennials face. Older generations have left behind a legacy of inaction, which has fallen onto the shoulders of millennials. Now it’s up to our generation to try and reverse it before it’s too late, and this feels like an extremely daunting task.
Many millennials agree that although there are a lot of behavioral and cognitive changes that can help with depression, the systems themselves need to change. Many of my clients are fed up feeling powerless in the world. They are tired of living in a country that decides what we should do with our bodies. They are sick of being led into further chaos and destruction by octogenarians. They are angry, and when that anger has nowhere to go, it festers in us. It becomes helplessness and depression.
What can you do about all this internalized anger, fear, and feelings of powerlessness? Action, involvement, and choice lead to empowerment. Empowerment breaks the cycle of helplessness and depression. So here are three ways to begin taking action right now, wherever you are.
The most effective way to fight back against these feelings of helplessness is to engage in small-scale change where you live. Change happens locally before it can happen globally. Therefore, focus on what you can do in your own town or city.
Focus on regional government policy changes. Call your senators. Volunteer or work for a local government candidate whose values you believe in. Make your voice heard where you are. Amplify the voices of those who are otherwise silenced by the system we live in.
It may feel like you’re not doing “enough.” However, putting your energy and efforts into community action can result in cascading changes that impact your friends, family, and community members.
And don’t be afraid of using your emotions to your advantage here. You have every right to feel afraid, aggrieved, and pissed off. You can use these emotions to energize your cause and your voice.
Loneliness is a consistent drain on mental health among all Americans, millennials included. Making meaningful connection with friends and your community is really tough as an adult, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your mental health. And I get it – socializing is hard, especially if you have social anxiety or are introverted. But it’s worth putting in the effort to build the skills to create healthy, fulfilling relationships.
And no, scrolling through social media liking your 7th-grade neighbor’s dog photos does not count as meaningful connection. Unfortunately, this will probably just leave you feeling lonelier.
Meaningful connection requires real vulnerability, and vulnerability is hard for many people. Engaging with people on a deep level is a key part of making meaningful connection. This means putting yourself out there in social situations. It means asking open-ended questions. It means sharing parts of yourself that are authentic but may feel scary.
Making deep connections with others takes time, and it’s okay if you’re just starting to build up your network of friends. In the meantime, get involved in your community. Take an art or an improv class. Start a book or a cooking club. Creativity, laughter, and good conversations can help you feel more connected and confident. They can help you feel like you have more to offer to your community and the world.
Sometimes, simply starting to take action can be surprisingly effective in helping you feel empowered in your life. This is like the law of inertia – an object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest. One big push in either direction can make a huge difference in your behaviors and actions.
Unfortunately, though, you can’t force depression to go away. If you don’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning and fighting for climate change or social justice issues feels far beyond your capacity, it’s okay to put yourself first. All those things can come after you’ve refilled your own cup.
Seek support from friends and family. Ask for help from healthcare providers. There’s absolutely no shame in getting medication to help with treatment. And consider therapy. A therapist can help you work through what’s keeping you stuck so you can finally move beyond your depression.
If you want help navigating depression, consider therapy. I understand the problems millennials face. I can help you figure out the skills to make more meaningful connections, how to take small but important actions in your life, and come up with coping skills for depression. Together we’ll work to break the helplessness cycle and empower you to step confidently into the world feeling ready for change.
I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.