Studies find that millennials have the highest incidence of mental health problems.
October 10th marks the World Health Organization's (WHO) official observation of World Mental Health Day, with this year's theme focusing on "Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World."
In a prelude to this week's commemoration, Lady Gaga and the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom co-wrote an op-ed on suicide, stigma, and mental health services for The Guardian. "By the time you finish reading this," they warn, "at least six people will have killed themselves around the world."
Gaga and Adhanom opine that "despite the universality of the issue, we struggle to talk about it openly or to offer adequate care or resources." Indeed, a shameful legacy of social stigma has shadowed mental health sufferers, allowing society to "ostracize, blame, and condemn" them due to a historical lack of tools and understanding. The piece outlines the WHO's hopes that countries around the world will encourage their citizens to openly discuss psychological issues and open channels for non-judgmental communication and mental healthcare. With Lady Gaga penning a condemnation of the world community that gives less than 1% of global aid to mental health, we can appreciate a public figure using her platform to highlight a crucial social issue — but it's another diagnosis without a cure.
Millennials, in particular, are very accustomed to discussing their struggles with mental illness, more so than any generation prior. With Selena Gomez recently entering treatment after an "emotional breakdown," Kanye West announcing he's off medication, and Demi Lovato publicly struggling with long-term "emotional and physical issues," there's a greater issue in the headlines than just the cost of a high-profile life. At least every celebrity blurb about a high profile figure battling mental illness opens another discussion about mental health.
Yet the core of the problem eludes us. While having those conversations makes progress towards destigmatizing psychological issues, various studies of the last year suggest that we still don't know how to have those conversations, and we might not be fully equipped to handle them when we do.
An assortment of studies in the past year have prefaced the WHO's focus on young people to highlight that millenials are the "most anxious generation" when compared to their predecessors dating back to the baby boomers (born 1945-64). While it's easy to malign millennials for their culture of abundance, youth centrism, and self-styling on social media, science has been weighing in that these privileges come at a cost. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 12% of millennials have received a medical diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Gaga and Adhanom cite in The Guardian, "One in four of us will have to deal with a mental health condition at some point in our lives," but they highlight, "Our young people are particularly vulnerable, with suicide being the second leading cause of death globally among 15-29 year olds and half of all mental illness beginning by the age of 14."
Statistics point to possible causes including lower employment rates, larger student loan debts, and decreased home ownership among millennials. However, other studies on the qualitative stressors on young people note epidemic detriment from "multidimensional perfectionism." Many millennials are the first to come of age under the unprecedented pressures of social media "to measure up to an ever-growing number of criteria," aiming for unrealistic perfection in work, school, romance, the arts, and an illustrious online persona. Of course "striving to reach impossible standards increases the risk of anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, and even suicidal ideation."
Curious Mind Magazine
While open dialogue about psychological issues is the first step to addressing them, we still risk being distracted by the celebrity gossip, the tragic suicide, or the newest controversial study that prompts us. How well we manage those conversations towards productive insights into stress management and coping strategies is the aim of our openness and turning point in improving world mental health. Rather than rumination (which can turn into commiseration) about mental health problems, there is the enduring truth that, "Stress is inevitable. You can either crumble and fall prey to it or ride it out," as neuropsychiatrist Dr. Era Dutta underscores in his work specializing in millennials' mental health.
Lady Gaga and Adhanom rally in their essay, "We can all be a part of a new movement – including people who have faced mental illness themselves – to call on governments and industry to put mental health at the top of their agendas." But we as individuals self-direct our conversations and manage our expectations — we know the diagnosis is too much silence, now how do we handle the cure?
Scientists have discovered an interesting link between prescription medication and depression.
Since 2013, the diagnosis of major depression in the United States has risen by a staggering 33% and people have noticed. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions on advertising trying to convince the general public that Prozac and Zoloft are the answer. Others blame social media addiction or the fact that Millennials, the group most acutely affected by this issue, are dealing with nearly insurmountable student loan debt. There are hundreds of theories bouncing around between psychology departments and media talking heads, but in reality there's probably no one root cause. That said, a new study in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) by Dima Mazan Qato may have just uncovered a new log to toss onto the already raging fire. According to the report, common prescription medicines–so common they're in an estimated one third of American households–may be contributing to the rising rate of depression in the United States.
The study includes drugs like beta-blockers, prescription strength ibuprofen, and birth control pills, but stops short of saying that these definitely cause symptoms of depression in otherwise healthy individuals on their own. The real danger occurs when prescriptions are mixed. It's perfectly normal for people to need more than one medication to help them with their health issues but Qato's finding suggest that when drugs are mixed, their side effects can be compounded.
Interestingly, the percentage of drugs which list depression or suicidal thoughts as symptoms–here's a list of over 200 from the New York Times– has been steadily creeping up over the past decade, from 35% in 2005 to 38.4% in 2014. In the same period, the percentage of adults concurrently taking three or more drugs rose from 6.9% to 9.5% and the usage of medications that list suicidal thoughts and depression as side effects has increased from 17.3% to 23.5%. To a layman or (very) ametuer logician, it's easy to extrapolate a cause and effect relationship from this data, but Qato advises against this, as the data's meaning isn't completely clear. What is clear, however, is that suicide rates have been steadily increasing since the beginning of the 21st century.
Dr. Philip Muskin, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia and secretary of the American Psychiatric Association suggests that the information in Qato's study, while not definitive, should be enough to warn doctors that their prescription pad can be a dangerous and unwieldy tool. The hope is that medical professionals will not hand out drugs like ibuprofen willy-nilly but rather take their side effects into account and discuss these side effects with their patients before prescribing.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff