Are Millennials Doomed to Pop Pills Their Entire Lives?


In high school, Liz Kennedy had a mental breakdown. She stayed home for an entire week thereafter. 

"I couldn't function," she recalled after a long pause.

"The biggest issue with depression is getting motivated to do anything for me. It's basically like every day somebody has to get out of bed and do something, and it's like 'do I really have to?' And if I don't have to, I won't. There's no point in anything during my bad days. But my meds usually keep it under control," Liz said.

Liz has been seeing a therapist since the age of nine. Depression and anxiety runs in her family. At the faintest sign of both conditions during her childhood, she was quickly given a way to cope. Medically, she is diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression, and autism on the lower end of the spectrum. 20 years old, she resides in Baltimore and is taking a break from community college. Every night before bed, she takes Cymbalta, along with a thyroid pill called Synthroid to enhance the effects of Cymbalta.

A survey conducted by the Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association tested the stress levels of Americans since 2007 and provided results in 2013. The conclusion of the study showed that the millennial generation, also known as Generation Y, have higher levels of stress compared to the national average. They are also more likely to develop an anxiety disorder or depression as a result of stress. The top three reasons for this generation's stress were reported to be "work" at 76%, "money" at 73%, and "relationships" at 59%. The economy fell in last place with 55%. 

Critics have deemed the millennial generation as pampered brats buttered up with high rather than realistic expectations from adult figures. When they fail, they are rendered incapable of handling the aftermath. In part, this may be true.

The New York Times addressed what sociologists are calling "the changing timetable for adulthood." The clear-cut milestones to adulthood are no longer as clear to 20-something year olds. Optimism is ambivalent and students graduating from institutes of higher education with with fancy degrees, debt, and bleak job prospects never contemplated on the proverbial "pursuit of happiness." The pressure to succeed has always been overwhelming in American culture. To settle for anything less is wounding for the millennial psyche which would naturally lead to taxing mental capabilities. 

20-year-old Meghan Bamerick hails from Long Island, New York. She lives with a generalized anxiety disorder and a very mild case of OCD that remains untreated. Depression was diagnosed alongside her anxiety — she took fluoxetine, also known under labels like Prozac. Nowadays she takes Trazodone. She says she inherited depressive genes, gained from her father's side of the family. Her best friend is her older brother, who also struggles with anxiety issues. 

"It's a little odd, because he's generally very popular," Meghan said of him.

"Perhaps it was written in the stars that my entire family would turn out a little neurotic."

Meghan said one of the biggest issues with anxiety is that people fail to realize the terror that comes with otherwise simple, everyday tasks. 

"I like staying at home. It's the only place I feel safe. I hate being burdened with responsibility, which sounds lazy, but it's not laziness, it's fear. Even getting into my car and going to the pharmacy is a struggle normal people don't have." 

Meghan used to attend Stonybrook University, a private school still in Long Island, but far from home. The combination of unfamiliarity with the environment and being constantly under the pressure of what she describes as a "sensory overload" ultimately made her drop out and take a year off. She now commutes from home to Suffolk Community College.

Reasons as to why this generation appears the most prone to mental disorders, however, are nuanced and go beyond what data can provide. Generation Y isn't necessarily more stressed than its predecessors. Today's mainstream culture differs radically from the 1950s and 60s, where mental health was viewed as a private affair. 

The 2000s embrace the soul of social media — where everything is left on the table to be shared with the public at large. 

Now that the anxiety-ridden Generation Y is out in the open, there is medication and therapy aplenty to tackle every factor that can be attributed to stress, anxiety and depression. But even treatment threatens to hit a glass ceiling. According to the Harris Interactive survey, an underwhelming 17% of respondents said that they often or always had conversations with their health care providers about stress management.

Meghan's health insurance recently dropped hospital visits and don't cover the expensive therapy costs she needs. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published the results to a study displaying a 53% increase in A.D.H.D. diagnosis for children within the past decade. The American Psychological Association also plans on changing the definition of A.D.H.D., which will make it even easier to get the diagnosed access to medication. Advocates argue that this development shows progress in A.D.H.D. care, while critics argue Ritalin and Adderall are being given gratuitously just to get kids to stay still. 

Are young people doomed forever to cope by popping pills? Or even, without pills at all when health insurance drops the ball? 

"The earth is growing smaller for us," Meghan said.

"Everything is instantaneous. We don't have to time to sit back and take in information anymore." 

She worries for her little cousin — a boy named Gavin, age six. He already uses a laptop and she fears he will be bombarded with too much, too soon and crash. She also wonders if his generation will be psychologically worse off than her own. 

"I guess if all the kids growing up now turn out to be even bigger nervous wrecks than we are, we've got an answer."