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December 8, 2017
by Tracey Block

The Anxiety of a Generation

December 8, 2017 00:38 by Tracey Block  [About the Author]

The newest generation of adults is also the most anxiety-ridden. They are the Millennials. Depending on which definition one uses, they are members of the group roughly between the ages of 18-33.

Also known as Generation Y, this collective group of young adults has been the subject of a surprisingly large amount of mental health research and data collection in both the U.S. and Canada. And the research continues.

Results of testing and surveys on both sides of the border have been congruous: not only are Millennials the largest generational group to suffer from stress and anxiety, but they make up the highest percentage of adults at risk for mental illness.

As part of its analysis of the outcomes of its Stress in America survey, the American Psychological Association (APA) recently wrote: “findings show that our ability to manage stress and achieve healthy lifestyles varies by age. Younger Americans report experiencing the most stress and the least relief--they report higher stress levels than older generations and say they are not managing it well.”

The APA defines the four generations for which data was collected as: “Millennials (18- to 33-year-olds), Gen Xers (34- to 47-year-olds), Boomers (48- to 66-year-olds) and Matures (67 years and older)”. 

Like the U.S., Canada’s statistics based on generational categories show the same mental health vulnerability of Millennials. Canada’s Global News reported that pollster Ipsos, in its spring 2017 commentary on its third annual Mental Health Risk Index, indicated “[a] staggering 63 percent of Canadian millennials are at “high risk” for mental health issues.”

Originally founded as the Angus Reid Group in 1979, Ipsos is Canada’s largest market research and public opinion polling firm. Jennifer McLeod Macey, vice president of the Ipsos Health Research Institute told Global News writer Carmen Chai, “We saw that a proportion of Canadians at high risk increased overall but really there’s this chunk of millennials feeling the weight on their shoulders.”

In addition, throughout North America, statistics show that more than 50 percent of Millennials surveyed have been unable to sleep at night due to anxiety, and almost half say they outwardly exhibit anger and irritability as a result of stress.

According to the APA report, “Each generation experiences negative consequences of stress, but Millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to say that they engage in unhealthy behaviors because of stress and experience symptoms of stress.”

So why is this group, painted by society as the carefree, tech-savvy future of tomorrow—so stressed out? 

Research confirms that technology—primarily in the form of social media--indeed plays a big part in the anxiety of the Millennial generation. As the first group to completely grow up under the influences of the likes of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter—the impact is now becoming clear.

Developing into an adult is anything but simple in the social media influenced world of augmented reality where posted images are first photoshopped to achieve perfection. Feeling the need to advertise only immediate successes, the pressure to appear perfect, happy and prosperous is often in contradiction with Millennial realities as they struggle to become competent young adults.

In her article last week for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Jenny Marie compared the difference between dealing with her own mental health challenges in her generation and her daughters’ experiences with their mental illnesses as Millennials. “By the time I was in my 20s, I panicked every time I drove or went to the grocery store. I knew my symptoms weren’t normal, but I still said nothing.” Marie wrote. “Stigma and fear kept me quiet.”

Although Marie recognizes the “immense weight” that comes with the “fast-paced, . . . competitive” world of social media her daughters live in, she is grateful for the opportunities it has provided for them to discuss mental illness. “Word is spreading through social media that mental health is an important part of overall well-being,” Marie explained. “. . . I’m not saying stigma is completely gone. But at least it’s not a totally taboo subject like it was when I was growing up.”

Ed Mantler, vice president of programs and priorities at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, echoes Marie and her daughters’ experiences: “We’ve been tackling stigma and forcing awareness on youth, so now we have a population of millennials who are more comfortable than previous generations for speaking up early about mental health issues they’re facing,” he said.

According to Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), another reason for the anxiety and stress challenging the mental health of Millennials, is the difficulty the generation faces when making significant life transitions.

“They tend to spend a longer time at home,” Henick said. “They have different expectations for life and the workplace. It’s a major life transition when you’re redefining what the norm is for your life. Millennials experience that more than any other prior generation.”

As Caroline Beaton wrote in her 2016 article, high post-secondary student debt and struggles to save enough money to live independently in an increasingly expensive world make Millennials’ stress levels soar.

“Sources of millennial anxiety may include a tough job market and student debt as well as . . . ambition addiction, career crises and choice-overload," she wrote.

Nevertheless, with a nod to social media and the reduced stigma surrounding mental illness, Millennials, more than any generation before them, are the most likely to “write or post about their mental health status online or on social media,” said CMHA’s Mark Henick. “While 10 percent of Canadians said they’ve opened up online in the past year when they were experiencing difficulties, it was millennials who led the way at 24 percent – or almost one in four.”



American Psychological Association (2012). Stress By Generation.

Beaton, C., (February 18, 2016). 8 Habits That Make Millennials Stressed, Anxious And Unproductive.

Chai, C., (May 2, 2017). Global News. Why more Canadian millennials than ever are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues.

Ipsos. (April 2017). 3rd Annual Canadian Mental Health Check-Up.

Marie, J., (December 1, 2017). National Alliance on Mental Health. Millennials And Mental Health.

Markowicz, K., (March 20, 2016). New York Post. ‘They can’t even’: Why millennials are the ‘anxious generation’



About the Author

Tracey Block
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