Millennials and Mental Health

Mental Health Takes a Toll on Millennials

Cathy Cassata

The need to care for your mental health is essential for everyone. However, Gen Z and younger Millennials — you might want to pay special attention.

The Hartford’s 2021 Future of Benefits Study revealed a lot about employee benefit trends. But it also offered an intriguing look into the mental health of people in the workplace.

According to the study, 52% of GenZ/younger Millennials say they struggle with depression or anxiety most days compared to 10% of Boomers. Unfortunately, younger Americans were hit hard by changes to their way of living during the pandemic.

“The younger generations have their unique challenges as their need for social connections have been dramatically impacted as they transitioned to virtual learning, working from home, disconnected from peers and social events,” said Adele Spallone, head of clinical operations for Workers’ Compensation and Group Benefits at The Hartford.

She said that younger Americans like work environments with the ability to collaborate with others. They also value flexibility, time off, and the latest technology.

“In addition, younger employees thrive on structure, stability, learning opportunities and immediate feedback, as well as social rewards. The increased isolation that results from social distancing and limited in-person social interactions is leaving many feeling alienated,” said Spallone.

Top Health Conditions Affecting Millennials

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) reported that as Millennials age, they may be less healthy than previous generations. Those who were 34 to 36 years old in 2017 were 11% less healthy than Gen Xers of the same age in 2014.

The report stated that the following conditions affected Millennials most. Each condition is ranked by the severity of its adverse health impact, which refers to how much having the condition reduces future healthy years:

  1. Major depression
  2. Substance use disorders
  3. Alcohol use disorder
  4. Hypertension
  5. Hyperactivity
  6. Psychotic conditions
  7. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  8. High cholesterol
  9. Tobacco use disorder
  10. Type 2 diabetes

Behavioral health conditions affected Millennials more than physical diseases. The top three conditions entailed behavioral health.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder (depression) is defined by The American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a “common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” Depression can affect how you function at home and work.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists the following as depression symptoms:

  • Sleep changes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling tired
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
  • Agitation and being less active
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Suicidal thoughts

While depression is a serious condition, treatment is available.

According to NAMI, a qualified mental health professional might recommend the following treatments:

  • Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family-focused therapy, and interpersonal therapy
  • Medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications
  • Brain stimulation therapies, including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)
  • Light therapy, used to regulate the hormone melatonin
  • Lifestyle habits, such as exercise and nutrition
  • Alternative approaches, such as acupuncture and meditation

Substance Use Disorders

Substance use disorders are defined by NAMI as the repeated misuse of alcohol and/or drugs. People with mental health conditions often use substances to deal with their condition.

NAMI lists the following as symptoms of a substance use disorder:

  • Becoming distant from friends and family
  • Unusual behavioral changes
  • Partaking in unsafe behaviors
  • Having a high tolerance to alcohol and/or drugs
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you don’t drink or take drugs
  • Inability to function unless you take a drug

Treatment for substance use disorders will likely involve a combination of approaches. It may also include addressing any underlying mental health conditions.

According to NAMI, your mental health care provider might use the following options:

  • Detoxification and help managing withdrawal in an inpatient or outpatient setting
  • Rehab at treatment centers, which provide therapy, support, medication, and more
  • Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Medications
  • Supportive housing, such as group homes or sober houses that are set up to help sober people stay sober
  • Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Smart Recovery, to connect you with others in a similar situation

Alcohol Use Disorder 

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition in which you can’t stop or control alcohol use. People with AUD might experience social, occupational or health consequences, according to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

AUD might include the following conditions:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Alcohol addiction
  • Alcoholism

According to the NIAAA, a medical professional might ask questions to decide if you have AUD and its severity. The organization offers this sample list:

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other after effects?
  • Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — kept you from taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?

Treatment for AUD varies depending on your condition.

A mental health professional might suggest the following:

  • Medications can help stop or reduce drinking and keep you from relapsing. A few options are naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram.
  • Detoxification involves getting weaned off alcohol and managing withdrawal.
  • Behavioral treatments are used to help change your drinking behavior. Alcohol counseling and psychotherapy are two types.
  • Support groups can connect you to others going through the same challenge. In-person or online meetings are available. Alcoholics Anonymous and Smart Recovery are two options.

For more information about mental health, reach out to your doctor. You can also visit NAMI’s website or call the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-NAMI (6264).

How Mental Health Is Viewed at Work

Stigma about mental health still exists. However, the pandemic helped to spread compassion in the workplace. The Hartford’s study found that 59% of workers say the culture of their company has become more accepting of mental health challenges this past year. “This has been the blessing through the pandemic — the ability to think about ourselves as human beings differently and incorporate the sense of well-being in the workplace,” said Spallone. “Employees are more engaged, and employers are more understanding. We really have a higher level of empathy. We can learn from this.”

56% of Gen Z/younger Millennials said that their company culture is more accepting of mental health. And 65% of Older Millennials said the same.

Although progress has occurred, mental health strain still significantly affects employees.

Here are a few ways employees said their mental health affects their productivity:

  • Trouble focusing/concentrating — 61%
  • Feeling irritable/angry — 46%
  • Missed time (late to work, leave early, missed days, unexpected absence) — 29%
  • Unable to collaborate — 19%
  • Missed deadlines/meetings/quotas — 18%

Additionally, 78% of employers feel their employees are given flexibility to get the mental health help they need. However, only 58% of employees said their company provides enough schedule flexibility to get the mental health help they need.

“Mental health is a key component of helping people remain active and productive at work and return to work safely after an injury or illness. While the pandemic has brought greater attention to the mental health challenges many workers face, it has also shed light on the opportunities for employers to support their team members,” said Spallone.

When asking for flexibility from your employer, consider the following:

  • Continued remote options, if available
  • Flexible hours
  • Part-time work
  • Compressed work weeks
  • Job modifications
  • Creative ways of addressing the challenges caused by the increased stress and anxiety

It’s Okay to Ask for a Mental Health Day

The Hartford’s study found that 70% of employers recognize mental health as a significant workplace issue. If you feel you need a mental health day or time off, keep in mind that your employer most likely understands your need.

“Employees should know that it is okay to take time to relax or re-energize or address physical or psychological needs. That can be achieved by taking paid time off, discussing with your manager the potential for flex schedule, shift change or accommodation,” Spallone said.

You can also contact your human resource department to learn about the wellness benefit offerings and the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

“With the continued uncertainty of the virus, the new strains and challenges around vaccination, we have tried to cope,” said Spallone. “Unfortunately, many of our coping attempts have created new problems. We encourage employers to offer a benefits package that not only addresses physical and financial well-being, but also mental well-being.”

Feeling empowered to take control of your mental health? Maybe it’s time to reach out to your workplace or get support from a professional. Or perhaps you’d rather focus on exercise, healthy eating, good sleep patterns and staying connected with others. Whatever your approach, you might be surprised to find the number of resources available to you through your community and employer. It’s worth a look.

We would love to hear from you: Please feel free to share your thoughts on this story in the comments section below.

This informational material shall not be considered medical or health advice. You should always consult your health care provider before changing your diet or starting a new exercise regimen. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for any decisions related to your medical or health care. Consult with your health care provider, nutritionist, or other health professional before making any decisions that may impact your health and well-being.

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