- Millennials are experiencing a “health shock” largely fueled by a decline in mental health, according to a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report.
- According to the World Health Organization, health shocks are “unpredictable illnesses that diminish health status.”
- The situation is comparable to the effects the Vietnam War and recreational drug use had on the Silent Generation, and the effect the AIDS epidemic had on boomers, the report said.
- Studies from 2019 have found that depression and “deaths of despair” are on the rise among millennials.
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Mental health is on the decline among American millennials.
It’s such a problem that Blue Cross Blue Shield defined mental health as millennials’ “health shock” in a recent report — and compared its effects to those the Vietnam War, recreational drug use, and the AIDS epidemic had on previous generations of the same age.
Health shocks, as defined by the World Health Organization, are “unpredictable illnesses that diminish health status.” The government has been documenting health shocks in terms of mortality since 1960, according to the recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report. The graph below documents these health shocks when the oldest members of each generation start turning 35, according to the Pew Research Center’s definition of generations. Millennials are ages 23 to 38 in 2019.
Each peak — the late 1960s to early 1970s, the 1990s, and 2015 — represents a health shock.
At the age of 35, the silent generation experienced health shocks that were traced back to the Vietnam War and a rise in recreational drug use, according to the report. A health shock happened again for boomers of the same age, related to the AIDS epidemic. Gen X, it appears, is one generation that did not experience a health shock, at least at the age of 35.
However, it’s worth noting that more than one generation was probably affected by these health shocks: Some older boomers in their 20s, for example, were probably affected by the Vietnam War. Similarly, some older Gen-Xers in their 20s were likely affected by AIDS.
The oldest millennials are now seeing an uptick in mortality. While the report says it’s difficult to determine a single cause behind this latest health shock, the rapid increase in conditions such as depression, substance abuse, and hyperactivity may be a key factor.
The declining state of millennials’ mental health
The report found that rates of depression and hyperactivity among American millennials increased by about 30% from 2014 to 2017. Major-depression diagnoses are rising at a faster rate for millennials and teens than they were for any other age group, according to an earlier Blue Cross Blue Shield report released in 2019.
The most prominent symptom of major depression is “a severe and persistent low mood, profound sadness, or a sense of despair,” according to Harvard Medical School.
A new report by the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at life expectancy and mortality in the US from 1959 through 2017 found that life expectancy began to decline after 2014 for the first time since 1969. It’s largely because of drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, suicides, and organ system diseases among those ages 25 to 64.
But a rise in accidental deaths overall makes up a larger share of mortality among millennials than they did for Gen Xers at the same age, the latest Blue Cross report found. (Accidental deaths from heroin and other opioid overdoses specifically have increased by 1,400% among all generations from 2010 to 2017.)
More millennials are dying “deaths of despair,” or deaths related to drugs, alcohol, and suicide, Jamie Ducharme reported for Time in June, citing a report by the public-health groups Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust. While these deaths have increased across all age groups in the past 10 years, they’ve increased the most among younger Americans, the report said. Drug overdoses were the most common cause of death.
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According to the Blue Cross’s baseline projection on the historical outcomes of these “health shocks,” it’s possible this decline could be rectified with proper management and treatment. But the report’s adverse projection indicates that millennials could see a 40% increase in mortality compared to Gen Xers of the same age.
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