As of last year, 20% of millennials reported feeling ‘depressed.’ In fact, we all probably know at least one person who claims to be ‘depressed’ in our age group. Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t millennials out there who do suffer from clinical depression, but to say that the 20% (or 1 in 5) is a flawed number. There are a hundred different articles and videos online that speak on millennials being the most depressed generation, but I don’t think that’s quite the case, for there’s a big difference between being depressed and just being overwhelmed.
Symptoms of clinical depression include persistent feelings of sadness on top of changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, or self-esteem. While many Millennials may feel one or more of these symptoms, I don’t think to attribute it to depression is accurate.
Each generation grows up with its own unique set of instruments that help dictate their growth as a human. Beyond the aid of the generation before us, our main instrument in guiding us through life has been the internet and social media. My theory is that the increased use of social media has in part attributed a sense of narcissism in all of us that when it fails to be fed, leads to feelings of loneliness or low self-esteem. Think about the last Instagram or Twitter post you made. Were you satisfied with the number of likes or retweets it got? If you didn’t delete it later, then I guess you were pretty satisfied.
There is plenty of scientific evidence that points to dopamine, or the “reward molecule,” being released in the brain after likes, comments, and retweets storm our latest posts. Dopamine is a neurochemical in the brain that gets released after accomplishing something important and plays the part of our inner reward system. It’s the same rush of happiness and content that floods through your veins after a great workout or after achieving a goal you set for yourself. With each Instagram post you make, you’re setting up an unconscious (or sometimes conscious) expectation for yourself that will be gratified almost instantly with likes or comments.
Through social media, we also receive a more persistent reminder that clout may really be the key to happiness. I mean, just look at all the girls (and guys) you follow on Instagram who pretend like they’re having a full-on Kylie Jenner photoshoot with their iPhone camera. I find it hard to believe that all these people have a dying passion to model. What I do believe, however, is that all people have a dying passion for attention and love. These are the narcissistic qualities that all humans carry. But, when that becomes the end all be all for your own happiness, then you unfortunately turn into a straight up Patrick Bateman narcissist. In fact, a recent poll among 16 year olds showed that when asked what they wanted to do for a career, 54% said they wanted “to be a celebrity.”
Now, think about those people I mentioned earlier who strive to look like a celebrity on Instagram. How many of them actually carry any talents or skills that would allow them celebrity status? I mean for god’s sake, being a celebrity is a side effect of having a certain talent or skillset that found them great success. There is literally no way of becoming a celebrity if you don’t have one of those. But, most millennials don’t realize this at all. We feel like we deserve to be celebrities worshiped upon by those that are less successful or interesting than us. Because, I mean after all, who’s more interesting than yourself? That’s why when these likes and follows, which nowadays translates into love and admiration, don’t meet our absurd expectations, we begin to feel symptoms of depression like low self-esteem.
Our addiction to social media and the instant gratification it gives us can stem further back to our childhood. Helicopter parents who control their kids lives and essentially dissolve their child’s ability to organize and prepare their own lives can definitely be at fault for overwhelming their kids to the point of confusing it with depression. But, I think an even greater cause of so-called “millennial depression” stems deeper.
Every race you raced, every tournament you played in, or really any kind of competition you found yourself in during your early childhood probably ended with you getting a trophy or ribbon of some kind even if you came in dead last. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t let your child or younger sibling win in a game of basketball every now and then, because without any kind of basis of self-esteem or what it feels like, they’ll never know how to strive for it. But, when children and adolescents are constantly rewarded for mediocre or below mediocre performances, a natural condition will form in their minds that rewards are something they deserve, not earn. So, when we don’t get rewarded for things we think we deserve, it leads us to feel inadequate and will naturally lead to other symptoms of depression. In fact, nearly 40% of millennials reported to feeling like they deserved a promotion or raise every two years regardless of if their work reflected an ethic deserving of a raise or promotion.
Look at animals in the wild. Analyzing other species and how their success is attained and measured can play an important insight on our own. After all we’re nothing more than just a distinct species of animals.The ones who eat, mate, and survive are the strongest. They’re the ones who deserve their success. There are no hand-outs in the wild. But in our case, we think that we deserve the world and more regardless of if we’ve worked for it or not. So, when we don’t get that raise after barely putting in any effort at work or get benched on the football team because you sat around like a lazy fuck the whole off-season, it’s easy to feel symptoms of depression since we think we were born to deserve these things. Moral of the story: Work hard, because you don’t deserve shit.
At the end of the day, each generation is just a product of the previous one. So, to blame millennials for our own downfalls would be completely illogical. It’s just important to keep our failures in mind so we can help avoid these things all together for the next generation that we’ll bring into this world.