Once again, millennials — anyone born between 1981 and 1996 — are in the news. This time, unbeknownst to them, it’s a plea for help.
In October 2018, BlueCross BlueShield released a report based on BCBS Health Index, a measurement of America’s health that quantifies how over 200 conditions and diseases impact longevity and quality of life. It turns out that major depression is the second most impactful condition on overall health to Americans who are commercially insured.
According to the report, diagnoses of major depression have risen by 33 percent since 2013. This rate is even higher among millennials at 47 percent. This is concerning. Millennials currently make up 26 percent of the U.S. population and have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest adult population.
What’s going on and what can be done about it?
Points to Ponder
Adolescence and young adulthood are age groups that are among the highest risk of first onset depression,” observes Lisa Starr, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology at University of Rochester and director of Rochester Internalizing Disorder & Emotional Adjustment (IDEA) Lab.
During adolescence a lot happens developmentally, especially new experiences and interpersonal skills. Depression, Starr points out, can derail that. Depressed individuals are less likely to go out with friends and pursue new activities. These experiences provide social skills that serve individuals their entire lives.
According to Starr, the sharp increase in depression with millennials is currently a mystery, and within the mental health field questions are arising on why this is occurring.
Starr’s assertion may come as a surprise to you. Especially because the national dialogue is quick to point out social networking, cell phone use and screen addiction as contributors.
“It’s possible but it needs more research,” Starr says. “There can be a lot of factors. We shouldn’t immediately latch onto the thing that is most different. We need to understand it more.”
What We Do Know?
Instead of guessing what the factors may be, focus on what research has proven. Evidence shows that sleep is crucial to regulation of emotions and mood in general along with other health outcomes.
“As a society we are chronically sleep-deprived,” Starr says.
Sleep deprivation is not new in America. However, millennials are carrying another moniker: “the tired generation.” While there may not be evidence linking social media to depression, sleeping with a glowing screen nearby or a device eager to send chirpy alerts for every new post, song, text, email, phone call, video and game update can most definitely impact sleep. Financial angst (that crushing student debt) and a steady stream of volatile news in the national spotlight are all potential sources of stress that compounds difficulty sleeping.
Sleep deprivation is something you can change. Regulating your news intake and turning off alerts from your device during the night are two suggestions. Increasing physical movement, eating healthier for improved wellness, and spending time in nature are all ways you can decrease stress levels.
How to Help
Sleep helps regulate emotion and mood but if someone is suffering from major depression, Starr says she’d be remiss not to mention treatments. She offers two recommendations: mindfulness therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Mindfulness therapy helps a person accept emotions as part of their present experience and observe a non-judgmental stance. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on addressing thinking patterns in a way that helps a person adapt.
“Depression doesn’t always look what you may expect it to look like,” says Starr.
Being a parent of a millennial who is at risk of depression or is suffering from depression can be a challenge. Unlike adolescents who are still living at home, millennials are adults and should allowed to live their daily lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean hands off. You can help most by encouraging treatment and doing what a parent does best; offering support and your unconditional love.