Millennials and Anxiety

I was on the phone with my mom yesterday when I brought up one of my cousins and how she too struggles with severe anxiety. Hers is so severe that she has had to drive herself to the ER because of panic attacks. Then my mom mentioned two other cousins who suffer from anxiety. My mom and I joked about how so many of us had anxiety and said that if she had mentioned having a headache or being nervous about something, she would be told, “You’re too young to have headaches or be nervous.” Basically, she and her seven other siblings would’ve been brushed off or told to suck it up. Not because her parents were mean or anything, that was just how it was back then. Because of this, my mom’s generation didn’t talk about feelings. I guess they bottled it all up or coped in other ways.

I had joked about it, but it got me thinking: why are so many Millennials (those born 1981 to 1996) so anxious? Why do (most) of us feel free to share their feelings and struggles when our own parents were taught not to? Do we overthink things? Am I overthinking this blog?

I don’t think so, lol.

Fun fact: Anxiety wasn’t even officially recognized as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1980, so I get why there’s resistance among older generations to acknowledge it as a real disorder/disease, but it now affects more than 40 million Americans — it’s a serious and widespread disorder.

The American Psychological Association reports that 12 percent of Millennials have officially been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder—almost twice the percentage of Boomers who have been similarly diagnosed. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association also released a report in 2018 that showed that diagnoses of mental disorders had risen dramatically by 33 percent since 2013, and millennials make up 47 percent of that figure. 

“Millennials have seen two major economic collapses, higher rates of divorce among their parents, a skyrocketing student loan crisis and a widening gap between the rich and the poor,” according to culture critic Kalev Rudolph.

Byrdie.com says, “While every generation tends to believe that they lived through the hardest times, the spike in anxiety levels among millennials shows that they are indeed going through more periods of stress than generations before them.”

When talking to one of my besties, she mentioned that watching the shuttle explode in Kindergarten changed her, as well as watching the Twin Towers fall in high school. Understandably, it takes a toll. Some people may roll their eyes at what I’m saying because people say that Millennials are weak and spoiled. And while I personally can’t dispute the spoiled part, I can dispute the weak part. So many of us were taught to keep things inside and not be vulnerable, but also many of us have embraced being vulnerable and authentic in what we feel and struggle with. That’s not a weakness — it takes a very strong person to share her struggle and be open about what she’s going through.

It wasn’t easy for me to “come clean” about my major depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, personality disorder and suicidal thoughts. It wasn’t easy, because the stigma of depression and (other mental disorders) is still very prevalent in the U.S. That stigma is what kept me quiet during my struggles, which only made it worse. It’s lonely when you’re fighting a disease you can’t talk about with anyone. And now, people congratulate and sing my praises because I do share so much — and I’m beyond grateful for that. But it shouldn’t be that way — everyone suffering with depression or another mental disorder should feel supported and free to share their experiences.

So, no — Millennials aren’t weak, and Boomers/Gen Xers aren’t stronger for keeping their problems to themselves. I acknowledge that those generations were taught to “suck it up” and keep it to themselves. That’s what they knew and how they coped. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but they didn’t know any better.

But now, we know better — we’ve evolved…not as much as I’d like, but we’re getting there.

It’s not a coincidence that so many of my female first cousins suffer from severe anxiety. Obviously, there’s a genetic component but what else is at play? Personally, my parents never told me to suck it up or not to be honest about my mental disorders. But somewhere along the way — and I suspect it’s the true for my cousins — we were taught to aspire to a certain image (i.e. being skinny). I know this to be true because I’m not the only one in my family with an eating disorder. Also, that ideal didn’t include admitting to mental illness, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, etc. I suspect that’s why I stayed quiet about my issues so long. I can’t speak for my wonderful cousins.

It’s nice to know that I’m not some genetic anomaly (although that could be debatable), because it can be so lonely to fight anxiety alone. I’m in good company — my cousins are all successful, kind, empathetic, loving women who fight just as hard as I do on a daily basis. I so badly want us to come together, share our experiences and support each other.

That’s the hallmark of our generation — strength and empathy.

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