A few years ago, my family was visiting my mom’s parents for Christmas. As we were talking, my sister let the room to take a medication. My uncle, nosy bugger that he is, asked what the medication was for. She told him: depression and anxiety.
He crinkled his brow in bemusement and looked at me. “Anxiety?”
His disdain is not rare: Millennials have the highest rate of anxiety of any generation, a fact that many Gen Xers and Boomers point to as proof that they are lazy and entitled.
I can understand their ignorance a bit: the American Psychiatric Association didn’t identify anxiety disorder as a mental illness until 1980.
And since Millennials entered adulthood into the worst economy since the great depression, it’s easy to see why they might lack confidence.
But the economy is hardly the only factor. Growing up in the 1990s, we witnessed technological advancement like no generation before us. We watched as the video tapes, video games, and CDs of our youth quickly became obsolete.
We were the first generation to grow up with access to the internet, which showed us more of the world than our parents probably intended. We were more connected than ever, but those connections were tenuous and disposable.
Growing up in such a shifting and impermanent world left us feeling isolated and helpless, feeling like the world might abandon us as quickly as we forgot about our Tamagotchis.
That impermanence mingled with the financial pressures of college debt and a struggling job market. Shake vigorously, and you have the most anxious, depressed generation ever.
And while we may have a higher rate of mental illness than the generations before us, fighting the old stigmas has been an uphill battle. Despite higher rates of anxiety and depression, many Millennials still don’t seek help for these conditions.
Many Millennials even doubt the effectiveness and benefits of anti-anxiety medication, retaining the Boomers’ suspicion towards psychotropic medications.
This suspicion may be somewhat warranted: the opioid crisis has shown all too plainly what overprescription can do.
But many people let the fear of overprescription flavor their attitudes toward prescriptions in general. People with severe chemical imbalances allow themselves to go without help.
I want to be very careful here, because the last thing I want to do is make it sound like I think that medication is the only answer to address mental illness. Psychotropic medications have a long history of problems and side effects and revisions.
But we must be very carful that we keep our reasonable hesitations regarding medications separate from the stigma that comes from seeking treatment for mental illness.
Because the fact of the matter is that we are facing an unprecedented level of mental illness right now. And if we let our hang ups about discussing and treating these illnesses get the best of us, then we very well might see our illnesses get the better of us.
And that’s too high a price.