Last updated October 13, 2017 at 11:06 am
Is there any credence to the controversy around why young people are suffering high rates of mental health issues? The data and science suggests that modern challenges are legitimate cause for concern.
Millennials suffer from the second highest rates of mental health issues behind Generation Z. In my experience alone, three of the five mates I grew up with take antidepressants to cope with depression and anxiety. And I’m one of them. How did we go from playing Playstation and watching wrestling to relying on medication to make it through the day? We already know that depression costs the Australian economy $12.6 billion a year and is becoming the number one health concern of the world.
If we want to avoid further related medical and economic catastrophes, we must establish what happened to our generation and why we are so stressed. Has the world really changed that much since our parents were our age or is it because we’re too busy buying smashed avo on toast to get a house? Having broken free of high school, we are told life should only get better: graduate university, get the dream career, meet the person of our dreams, buy a house and have kids. Easy, right?
Most of us spend more than a decade as part of a schooling system where, ideally, everything is set up to support learning. But many first year university students feel overwhelmed by the change of pace when they get there. This may be part of the reason one third of uni students drop out within six years of enrolling in Australia. After the previous six years of high school, the prospect of another three or more years of increasing academic pressure can be too much to take. Those that graduate can look forward to paying more for their degree than ever, with the estimated cost of a three year degree reaching $50,000+ by 2026. After graduating, students will spend up to 20 years to repay the debt. These stresses take an obvious toll on the mental health of this generation: financial stress was found in 89% of students with mental health disorders in Australian universities. Similarly, in the United Kingdom 75% of students feel stressed about their debt and suicide rates amongst students have increased.
If it’s going to take up to 20 years to pay off that debt, millenials need a ‘good’ job to finance the dream life. But an increase in graduates and a decrease in available positions, across graduation domains from law to engineering to the trades, makes it harder for university graduates to find work in their field. Full-time employment for graduates has declined from 56.4% to 41.7%. Meanwhile, 20% of those millennials with a job are “under-employed” (where an individual wants to work more but can’t find the work). As a result only 8% of millennials believe that they will be better off financially than their parents, compared to the an average of 36% in the rest of the developed world . It’s the first time in recent history where an entire generation is likely to be worse off than their parents.
Just as well, then, that so many millennials are still living at home! Almost a quarter of Australians between 18 and 34 are still living with their parents, with the trend increasing, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Why? “Almost half (45%) of people aged 20–24 years who had never left home said that the main reason was financial”, says the ABS. According to former Treasurer Joe Hockey, all you need to buy a home is a “good job that pays good money”, but with median house prices rising by over 99% and 85% in Sydney and Melbourne between 2009 and 2017 (which has not been mirrored by a relative increase in wages), it’s no wonder millennials are spending more than three times what their grandparents did on housing. The rising cost of housing, for buyers and renters, leaves many feeling constantly stressed about their lack of money as a result, which often has a domino effect on the quality of their relationships at home and physical wellbeing.
You could argue that all the issues I’ve laid out here are subject to the control of the individual and that those who suffer mental health issues should be tough and pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps. “Don’t earn enough? Get a new job or a second job”. “Can’t afford a house? Stop buying flat whites and start saving money, we all have to make sacrifices”. But times have changed, politically and socially, and – even with all the will in the world – the struggle for some young people is very real. The goalposts have moved.
The issues affecting our mental health extend beyond what we can control. It’s bigger than what to have served with our smashed avo, or whether we want to live comfortably and own a house. Events playing out on the national and international stage are on our minds and have a significant impact. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey, over half of millennials are worried about the state of politics, both nationally and internationally. With the President of the United States actively working against international powers when it comes to climate change, emboldening white supremacists and racists, and using Twitter to escalate nuclear tensions with North Korea, it’s clear to see why the people most likely to live to see a possible World War 3 are so concerned with international politics.
Closer to home, the Australian government is spending $122 million on a non-binding postal survey to decide whether LGBTIQ+ people deserve the same human and legal rights as heterosexual couples. This action has given a voice to hate in real life and online. In every conceivable measure of mental wellbeing, LGBTIQ+ individuals are affected more than heterosexual individuals, with the chances of attempting suicide five times higher than average. Why? “Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination”. The public debate has impacted these individuals, who are already tormented by societal pressures and discrimination. Consider the consequences if our government continues to further marginalise this section of our community.
To summarise: society has drilled into millennials that the dreams of past generations should be our dreams, too. Those dreams are moving further and further out of reach as our society changes at a pace too fast for our collective cultural consciousness. The result? The largest sections of our society are left feeling like failures for not achieving what was relatively achievable for our parents and grandparents, only to be told by those generations that it’s all our fault. The reality is far from the perception and it’s causing a mental health epidemic (with all of the associated costs of a physical epidemic).
If we want to improve the lives of current generations afflicted and prevent further harm for future generations, we need to collectively work together to make positive social changes. It won’t be easy but it’s possible.
If you or anyone you know is affected by mental health issues, please speak to someone and seek help. Not sure where to turn? Here are some online resources:
- Kids Helpline (telephone and online counselling for ages 5-25) – call 1800 55 1800
- headspace (mental health service for ages 12-25) – call 1800 650 890
- ReachOut.com (youth mental health service) – online help
- SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 18 7263
- Lifeline (support for anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467