Opinion: The Millennial mental health crisis

Millennials are members of a lucky, but misunderstood, generation
Millennials are members of a lucky, but misunderstood, generation Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: Why, in a world of equal rights, equal opportunity, breakthrough technology and higher education levels are we Millennials suffering from more mental health issues than ever before?

We lack resilience, and the coping skills to deal with hardship or frustration. We have been reared in an environment that could be classified as somewhat 'easy,' under the false impression that life is smooth.

I know mental health is a sensitive and immense subject, which cannot be whittled down to resilience alone. I am not a psychologist, and I am not trying to point fingers.

But from a young age, Millennials are steered away from the concept of failure - so when failure hits, we lack the skills to manage it.

We are brought up in an uninspired educational environment that mismanages our expectations. Our schooling system has become too focused on standardised testing, conditioning us to simply get all the answers right.

How can this prepare us for the inevitable obstacles of real life? We are taught that by getting straight As in school and going to university, we will be granted with the golden ticket for the good life. And when it hits us that this is not in fact the case, the quarter-life crisis rears its ugly head.

In the Millennial world of instant gratification and perfection, the word 'failure' is avoided at all costs. Perfection is the ultimate goal, yet one that will never be attainable. So, can you really blame us for feeling depressed when our lives don't go according to plan? Some call it entitlement - I call it mismanagement.

We are pulled in so many directions, torn between trying to find a good job in a non-growth job market, paying off our increasing debts, staying on top of rising living expenses, and the question of 'what now?'. We are seeking a life with meaning and purpose. We have more means to travel than ever before, yet we also want to save for a house in the far-distant future. The path is bumpier, less defined and more confusing than ever.

Doctors do not help the situation. Instead of teaching coping mechanisms, our doctors are prescribing anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications at the drop of a hat. Medication should be a last resort, not a first. We must get to the root of the problem and arm Millennials with the skills to cope on their own.  

Our Prime Minister has said our nation's suicide rate is "shameful" and promises a ministerial inquiry into mental health this year - a great step in the right direction. Maybe we should reduce the number of traffic cops on the road fining people for driving 55km in a 50km zone, and put these resources into something worthwhile.

Perhaps the truth is not that we are more depressed but that we are more open about it. Perhaps the older generation simply did not speak about this sensitive topic as we do.

Regardless, we Millennials seem to be bearing the brunt of it all. We are the byproduct of a system which fails to recognise the inevitability of difficulties; the members of a lucky but misunderstood generation.

Rosy Harper-Duff is a marketing and communications graduate, now working in New Zealand's wine industry.