DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Today in Your Health, we'll find out how a metronome can help with CPR, but first, the millennial generation - people born in the late '80s and early '90s. There's this common assertion that this generation is ill-prepared to deal with life's challenges, and as a result, they have higher rates of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. NPR's Maanvi Singh looks into whether there is any truth behind the stereotype.
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: On a recent Sunday afternoon, I started reading through all this stuff written about my generation, along with my friend Jay Friedel (ph). We're both millennials. Here's an excerpt from psychologist Jean Twenge's book "Generation Me."
JAY FRIEDEL: (Reading) In past generations, suicide and depression were considered afflictions of middle age as it was unusual for a young person to be depressed. But for generation me, these problems are a rite of passage through adolescence and young adulthood.
SINGH: And apparently this was all our fault. Here's a Slate article.
FRIEDEL: (Reading) Their bigger challenge is conflict negotiation, and they often are unable to think for themselves.
SINGH: OK, well, most of them were implying it was our fault. Here's The Washington Post.
This one says (reading) why are so many millennials depressed? A therapist points finger at mom and dad.
SINGH: Even NPR has questioned our competence. But I wondered - could it be true? I asked Mitch Prinstein. He's a psychologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Are millennials more depressed and anxious than young people from generations past?
MITCH PRINSTEIN: I've definitely heard reports regarding increased levels of psychopathology among millennials, but I'm not sure there are data to support that.
SINGH: See, researchers were not good at collecting data on mental illness back in the '60s and '70s when the baby boomers were young. So we can't really compare how depressed we millennials are with how it was for our parents and grandparents. The federal government only has good data going back to the early 2000s, and depression rates haven't increased since then.
There are better stats on suicide among young people. Suicide rates for young adults increased through the '70s and '80s, but they started dropping off in the late '90s and have continued to decrease. So it seems young people these days don't have higher rates of suicide than generations past. So where does this idea that millennials' mental health is declining even come from? Prinstein thinks people get that impression because we millennials are full of angst - like everyone - only we tend to broadcast our angst.
PRINSTEIN: Millennials are certainly using social media and other forms of networking in a way that allows them to express their distress and their emotions and their need for reassurance and support in a way that we haven't seen with other generations.
SINGH: And we do have a lot of things to stress about.
PRINSTEIN: They're experiencing more uncertain employment future. We've just come off of a recession. And the economic woes certainly are influencing millennials' future outlook.
SINGH: Plus, we're saddled with student loans. So we're stressed, but that doesn't mean that we're depressed.
PRINSTEIN: Depression is a biologically and psychologically driven form of mental illness that is remarkably common, but is not necessarily experienced by everybody who is expressing distress.
SINGH: OK, but some psychologists are still concerned, like Joe Allen at the University of Virginia. He specializes in adolescent psychology, and he thinks that a lot of parents have worked really hard to make it too easy for millennials by not challenging them to support themselves.
JOE ALLEN: If you're living in your parents' basement and playing video games because you can't get a job or haven't been pushed to get a job, that's going to leave you feeling, you know, aimless and a bit at a loss and a bit at sea whether or not it counts as clinical depression in a formal way.
SINGH: But again, there's no good studies to show that. In any case, Prinstein says millennials are doing some things right.
PRINSTEIN: I'm not sure that it's fair to characterize millennials as a group as poorly prepared to deal with life. They're differently prepared.
SINGH: He says we're more open about our mental health these days, which is a good thing. It can reduce stigma so more people who really need help are getting it. I'm Maanvi Singh, NPR News.
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