When I was growing up, a “mental health day” was taken for various reasons. Some typical justifications included skipping school to catch a Red Sox game, or sleeping in to recover from a late night movie marathon. These were not, however, days you went to see your therapist or counselor, days you stayed home due to crippling anxiety or depression, nor were they days dedicated to self-care – a term I had never heard of until college.
Looking back, maybe those days really were about mental health more than just playing hooky, but if they were, it certainly wasn’t something my peers talked openly about. When I compare the budding acceptance of questionable mental health to the days where being sad wasn’t an option if you wanted kids in the hallway to think you were cool, there’s no question that things have changed for the better . But as society continues to destigmatize mental illness, generation differences mean millennials are met with some criticism as they walk down the road of self-care.
When I reflect on my school days, mental health was never a popular topic of conversation among my classmates. Did some suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses? Definitely. Did we talk about it? No. I did see this attitude shift as high school graduation loomed, as well as throughout my four years in college. With college being such a critical time for most millennials, it’s no wonder that more than 75 percent of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24. College is likely our first time on our own. We’re often away from friends and family while simultaneously trying to succeed at becoming well-rounded and educated citizens of the world.
Contrary to popular belief, millennials recognize that every generation has faced unique challenges. Our grandparents lived through wars and our parents through recessions. We are by no means trying to play the woe-is-me card, but that certainly doesn’t stop us from acknowledging the obstacles we’re dealing with. Because they are as real as anything…
When I read recently that one in five working millennials report experiencing depression, as compared to 16% of older employees, I wasn’t shocked. We grew up being told our future was bleaker than youths of the past. We have crippling student loans for degrees we likely won’t be able to use, and on top of it, we were raised on technology that made interconnection harder for us than any earlier generation. But the good news is that because of that same technology, mental health stigmas are dissolving with the help of social media. At the University of Pennsylvania, 20 percent of undergrads at some point or another seek counseling for anxiety and depression – which has doubled their rate from 15 years ago and led to an increase in outreach and prevention staff. Colleges and even high schools across the country are seeing record numbers of patients and work to implement wellness and self-care programs.
In addition to efforts at the college level, social media has played a role in providing self-care and self-awareness opportunities. Millennials are now more likely to download apps to improve their well-being – whether it is a diet, exercise, sleep or mood app. We invest in therapy and life coaching, use blogs, podcasts, online forums and Twitter to express how we feel. We use Instagram to show what the face of mental illness really looks like and, lo and behold, people are coming to find that it looks just like me or you. With all of these social media outlets, we’re able to normalize mental illness. We can promote and increase the understanding of it. and decrease the stigma by letting the world know mental illness doesn’t have a face. It can touch the lives of people you least expect.
Every generation has faced problems and millennials are no different. We have new issues and concerns that, perhaps, our parent’s generation never lost sleep over. But we’re on the right track to becoming a more self-aware and self-loving generation. We might take more mental health days, but that should be seen as an improvement rather than a regression. Millennials can be the generation that takes back control. We can put life at the forefront of work-life balance.
And no matter what you do on your mental health day, do it for you and no one else. We won’t judge you if you spend the day buying things you don’t need at Target, sob while looking through old photos or take the day to clean out your pantry. The more we can listen to our minds and bodies, the more mentally healthy our generation can become.