Posted on Across the Ages: April 5, 2008 9:37 AM
A lot gets written about Gen Y's good fortune, strong sense of immediacy and optimism.
But, as with most things, there is a tradeoff. It is also becoming clear that there is a dark lining to these positive attributes. Many Gen Ys are also feeling overwhelmed by high expectations and multiple choices. In one survey, over 60 percent of recent high school graduates surveyed said that they had experienced some of the symptoms doctors use to diagnose clinical depression. (See Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties by Alexandra Robbins and Abby Wilner).
If you're a Gen Y, feeling overwhelmed and wondering why this great life is not shaping up to be everything you'd imagined—or if you're the parent or friend of a Y who seems to be struggling, here is some context to consider.
Gen Y's optimism creates high expectations. Most Ys envision life as an adult as highly successful. Some have views that are unrealistic. And, as Barry Schwartz discussed in The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, unlimited choices mean endless decisions.
The transition to adulthood is arguably more challenging than ever before: the costs of an education and of housing are increasing rapidly, globally competitive labor markets complicate career issues, and wages in most Western economies are stagnating, particularly for men. Ys are transitioning from a world in which they were on a pretty clear and narrow path—they knew what classes to take and what was required to succeed. But the challenges they now face are numerous and complex: choosing a career, a city, a company, a role, colleagues, for some, as life partner—determining how to trade-off multiple priorities, money, passions and aspirations—planning how to get out of debt, start a family (or a business), buy a home. The number and complexity of new decisions facing Gen Y can easily cause some to feel overwhelmed.
Then there's the issue of our pace of life. The number of people who say that "always feel rushed" more than doubled between the mid-1960s and mid-1990s in the United States, with people aged 25 to 34 feeling most anxious about everything that needs to be done. Older Ys in particular, those who have entered the workforce, are likely to feel busier and more stressed than ever. Robert Putnam discussed the sense of isolation that comes from this faster pace in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
Overlying these situational factors is the reality that the onset of depressive disorders most commonly occurs in an individual's mid-twenties. (See "Families at High and Low Risk for Depression: A 3-Generation Study" from the Archives of General Psychiatry) While depression is sometimes linked to family history or genetic tendencies, depressive episodes also result from situational stress. And, Ys today live in an era of introspection and may be experiencing their surroundings differently than preceding generations—with greater deliberation and angst.
The symptoms of depression include sadness, frequent crying, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, changes in appetite or sleeping habits, or general lack of motivation to do things you once enjoyed. If you are experiencing several of these symptoms, you are by no means alone, nor should you be surprised. By definition of where Gen Ys are in life, you inevitably face a number of major situational changes—and these can easily trigger depression.
Alarmingly, in the same survey in which 62% of recent high school graduates said that they had experienced some of the symptoms of clinical depression, only 7% had sought help. Individuals in their 20's rarely seek treatment for psychological disorders because of a lack insurance, time, money, or information on where to get help. This inability to reach out often increases the sense of isolation.
I'm not a medical professional but I do know that lots of help is available. If you are experiencing even a couple of the symptoms of depression, please reach out. If your friend or family member is struggling, encourage him or her to seek help. For most, this is just a transitional phase that may be helped by a little guidance and support. And if more help is needed, it is there.
What has your experience been? Have you noticed the Gen Ys in your life struggling with being overwhelmed or even depressed? How have you helped?