Mental Health Issues Facing Millennials

Financial and professional worries, a lack of social support, emotional issues, and the COVID-19 pandemic are creating or contributing to mental health conditions for millennials, the generation of people born from 1981 to 1996. But even if they lack money or health insurance, millennials can find assistance to treat anxiety, depression, addiction, and other mental health concerns.

Millennials, or people born between 1981 and 1996, are sometimes known as an anxious generation because they are the first to grow up with the constant information flow of the internet and social media. Anxiety, however, is only one mental health issue that millennials face.

Increasingly, more and more millennials are struggling with depression, substance use disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), according to a 2020 study. When compared with the U.S. population as a whole, they are more affected by certain mental and physical illnesses.

Some deaths are known as deaths of despair because they relate to emotions and mood. Deaths of despair include deaths from suicide, drugs, or alcohol, and they’re rising among millennials.

Between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate of millennials increased 35 percent. This compares to

  • An increase of 14 percent for members of Generation X (people born from 1965 through 1980).
  • An increase of 24 percent for baby boomers or boomers (people born 1946 to 1964).
  • An increase of 14 percent for the silent generation, the generation that preceded the baby boomers.

The prevalence of behavioral health conditions can also increase millennials’ risk for chronic physical conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), Crohn’s disease, type II diabetes, and coronary artery disease.

Common Mental Health Conditions

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield, larger numbers of millennials are facing mental health conditions such as major depression, substance abuse disorder, alcohol use disorder, tobacco use disorder, ADHD, and psychotic conditions.

Major Depression

According to Harvard Medical School, the most prominent symptom of major depression is a severe and sustained low mood and a sense of despair. While these symptoms sometimes last a few weeks, they can often last months or years.

Many people with major depression also have anxiety disorders and low self-esteem. They also might experience guilt, pain, and self-criticism.

Compared with other generations, millennials tend to have higher rates of depression. Since 2014, instances of major depression among millennials have increased 43 percent. Burnout contributes to depression for some, which could come from working long hours.

Substance Abuse Disorder

Substance abuse disorder affects people’s brains and bodies and they can no longer control their use of drugs. From 2014-2018, the number of millennials with substance abuse disorders increased 17 percent, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Within the past decade, the number of deaths from drug abuse among millennials has more than doubled. The increase in deaths related to man-made (synthetic) opioid drugs has increased. Between 1999 and 2017, death rates caused by synthetic opioids rose by 6,000 percent among millennials.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder, sometimes known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism, occurs when a person can’t stop drinking, no matter how much difficulty drinking causes in their lives. The number of millennials with alcohol use disorder rose 7 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield.

As more millennials are drinking, more are also dying because of this drinking. From 2007 and 2017, alcohol-related deaths among millennials increased 69%.

Tobacco Use Disorder

Tobacco use increased 10% among millennials from 2014 to 2018, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield. Vaping is particularly popular among members of this age group.

The American Academy of Family Physicians found that 21% of millennials used e-cigarettes and many don’t think they’re addictive or harmful.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms include inattention, disorganization, self-control, and immaturity. The condition can affect motivation, memory, and decision-making as well.

While people typically receive ADHD diagnoses in childhood, the condition is also diagnosed in adults. The disorder can exacerbate feelings of doubt that many millennials might already have and can affect their ability to perform consistently at work or school.

Psychotic Conditions

Psychotic disorders cause abnormal thinking and perceptions, such as delusions and hallucinations. Schizophrenia and delusional disorder are two examples. Some people with bipolar disorder also exhibit some psychotic symptoms.

People who have these conditions can’t tell the difference between reality and delusions. They might act and speak in chaotic ways. From 2014-2018, the number of millennials with psychotic disorders increased 26 percent.

Why Are Millennials Experiencing Mental Health Conditions

Psychiatrists and other medical and mental health professionals believe several factors could be contributing to millennials’ mental health issues.

Biological Factors

Research has discovered that the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls impulses, is not fully developed until adults are into their mid-to-late 20s. This lack of development can contribute to substance and alcohol abuse. It can also contribute to actions that can lead to legal problems and other consequences that can fuel depression, anxiety, and despair.

Financial Concerns

Many households headed by young adults have education-related debt. The payments on that debt might consume half of their income, creating financial stress. A review and meta-analysis in the Clinical Psychology Review stated that there is “a significant relationship between debt and various disorders, including

  • Debt and mental disorder
  • Depression
  • Suicide completion
  • Suicide completion or attempt
  • Problem drinking
  • Drug dependence
  • Neurotic disorder
  • And psychotic disorders.”

Millennials with children face additional financial stressors. The cost of raising a child to age 17 is about $240,000. Between 2011 and 2017, housing prices increased by 48 percent while income increased by only 15 percent.

Average annual health insurance costs per person have increased from $146 in 1960 to more than $10,000 in 2016. Some millennials skip health care and health insurance because they cannot fit the costs into their budgets. More millennial households live in poverty than any other generation, and single mothers head more millennial households.

Lack of Social Support

Marriage might improve a person’s mental health, but more than half of all millennials have never been married. One in three millennials reports that they always or often feel lonely, as compared to 20 percent of Generation Xers and 15 percent of baby boomers.

Compared to other generations, millennials also are less likely to be associated with faith communities or political parties that can provide support. About 20 percent of millennials say that they have no close friends aside from family members or their partners.

Emotional Issues

Many members of the millennial generation grew up using technology rather than making eye contact or scanning others’ faces to gauge emotions. These experiences could create a lack of emotional awareness that could prevent some millennials from understanding and processing their own emotions effectively.

Millennials also grew up witnessing tragedies replayed continually on the media, said psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani. Constantly viewing acts of terrorism, violence, and natural disasters might create a sense of fear, hopelessness, and helplessness in this generation from a young age.

The generation also grew up during a time when many children receive participation trophies, regardless of whether they performed well or not. When children always win, they might not develop the ability to cope with failure. When they become adults, they might lack the resiliency to handle stress and disappointments.

Stressful Work Environments

Work environments might pose other challenges for millennials. Many work in jobs with flexible schedules and remote access. While these options have positive aspects, they might mean that millennial workers are always available. They might have less downtime, which is essential for mental health.

Studies have found that short vacations can reduce stress. They can improve life satisfaction, reduce depression and anxiety, lower the risk of heart attacks, and improve performance when employees return to the office.

It doesn’t look like millennials are taking such breaks. More than 70 percent of millennials said they typically work more than 40 hours a week, and 25 percent work more than 50 hours a week.

Working such hours, especially in competitive work environments, can heighten risk factors for mental health conditions. In fact, more than half of millennials say their jobs negatively affect their mental health and provide only fair or poor mental health benefits. More than half of them have left jobs for mental health reasons.

Health Shock

Because of their mental health issues and the physical health challenges that accompany them, the overall health decline of millennials has declined more rapidly as they age compared to members of Generation X.

The younger generation is experiencing what the World Health Organization (WHO) calls a health shock. According to the WHO, a health shock consists of “unpredictable illnesses that diminish health status.” If millennials don’t manage such issues, they could experience increases in mortality compared to the members of Generation X.

COVID-19 and Mental Health

COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health issues for millennials, such as increasing feelings of loneliness. A survey found that 92 percent of millennials thought their mental health had worsened during COVID.

More than one-third reported increased alcohol consumption and 20 percent reported an increase in smoking due to the pandemic. Sixteen percent said they had increased their drug use. Those with opioid use disorder have been particularly affected and may be at higher risk of relapse because of the isolation caused by the pandemic.

Researchers predict that the pandemic is likely to accelerate the increase of mental health issues among millennials. They add that the group’s lifestyle behaviors during the pandemic could lead to the start of behavioral health conditions or worsen others.

Improving Millennials’ Mental Health

One factor that works in favor of improving millennials’ mental health is that mental illness does not hold the stigma for them that it does for other generations.

Scholars at American University said that millennials grew up hearing about mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, suicide, and eating disorders. Because of this, members of this generation are less likely to judge those who have mental illnesses.

About half of all millennials in a Matters of the Mind survey said that while they would seek mental health care if they needed it, they would not tell others that they did so. According to the survey:

  • More than 85 percent of millennials would be comfortable befriending or working closely on a project with someone who had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
  • More than 60 percent would be comfortable living with or dating someone who had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
  • More than half would be comfortable voting for a candidate who had been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Some millennials see therapy as self-improvement. When they can afford therapy, they tend to seek it sooner and with fewer reservations than previous generations.

Others view therapy as requiring too much time or too much money. According to the American University study, they feel the time is better spent on their careers. Or, they might not pursue therapy because they can’t afford it.

A Blue Cross Blue Shield study found that one in five millennials who suffered from depression did not seek help, yet the condition can reduce mortality by as much as nine years. Men are less likely to seek help than women.


  • – Millennials and Mental Health
  • – Nearly One in Three Millennials Now Suffer from Mental Health Conditions, According to Study
  • – Top 10 Health Conditions Affecting Millennials
  • – Pain in the Nation: Building a National Resilience Strategy Alcohol and Drug Misuse and Suicide and the Millennial Generation — a Devastating Impact
  • – Millennial Health Trends in Behavioral Health Conditions
  • – Major Depression
  • – Business Insider: Lonely, Burned Out, and Depressed: The State of Millennials’ Mental Health in 2020
  • – Drug Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)
  • tfah.orgMillennial Generation Deaths Due to Drug Misuse Up 400 percent since 1999; Deaths from Drugs and Suicide at All-Time Highs
  • – More Millennials Are Dying “Deaths of Despair,” as Overdose and Suicide Rates Climb
  • aafp.orgSurvey: One in Five Young Americans Thinks Vaping Is Harmless
  • – Becoming Ready to Launch: The Experiences of Millennials with ADHD
  • – The Relationship Between Personal Unsecured Debt and Mental and Physical Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
  • – The Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence
  • – Millennials Are the Loneliest Generation
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.govShort Vacation Improves Stress-Level and Well-Being in German-Speaking Middle-Managers — A Randomized Controlled Trial
  • – Most 20-Somethings Say They Work over 40 Hours a Week — Here’s How They Can Avoid Burning Out
  • – Coping with Out-of-Pocket Health Payments: Empirical Evidence from 15 African Countries
  • – BCBSA: Millennials’ Mental Health Is on the Decline — and COVID-19 Is Making It Worse
  • – Matters of the Mind: A Look at Millennials and Mental Health
  • – Two Million Commercially Insured Americans Diagnosed with Major Depression Are Not Seeking Any Treatment
  • – Millennials Can’t Afford Health Insurance, Adopt Risky Alternatives

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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