- Few research from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) suggests millennials may be substantially less healthy as they age.
- Millennials aged 34 to 36 in 2017 were 11 percent less healthy than Gen Xers aged 34 to 36 in 2014.
- Millennials have had a double digit increase in diagnoses for eight of the top 10 health conditions.
- When compared to the national population, millennials are more affected by behavioral health conditions than physical, with the highest increases shown in rates of major depression and hyperactivity.
Although millennials may seem to have a greater investment in health and wellness than generations before them, findings from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) suggest millennials will be substantially less healthy as they age.
The report defines the following as the top 10 conditions affecting millennials, ranked by adverse health impact:
- Major depression
- Substance use disorder
- Alcohol use disorder
- Psychotic conditions
- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- High cholesterol
- Tobacco use disorder
- Type 2 diabetes
“While the top 10 conditions affecting millennials are not necessarily surprising, what is shocking is the prevalence rates for each of these conditions in millennials when compared to rates for previous generations,” Dr. Vincent Nelson, vice president of medical affairs for the BCBSA, told Healthline.
Millennials aged 34 to 36 in 2017 were 11 percent less healthy than Gen Xers aged 34 to 36 in 2014, and had a double digit increase in diagnoses for eight of the top 10 health conditions.
Still, 83 percent of the 55 million millennials surveyed in 2017 considered themselves in good or excellent health, despite the BCBSA analysis revealing otherwise.
“Because significant health challenges are rising among millennials earlier than in previous generations, we must address these issues now,” said Nelson.
Mental health conditions hit millennials hardest
When compared to the national population, millennials are more affected by behavioral health conditions than physical, with the highest increases shown in rates of major depression and hyperactivity.
“While we may be seeing moderate diagnosis impact across all generations for previously stigmatized behavioral health conditions, millennials are seeing higher growth in prevalence than either Gen X or baby boomers,” said Nelson.
Major depression, substance abuse disorder, and alcohol use disorder were the top three conditions for millennials.
Deborah Serani, PsyD, professor at Adelphi University and award-winning author of “Living with Depression,” says the prevalence of these conditions among millennials doesn’t surprise her.
She believes the following circumstances in which millennials grew up are contributing factors:
1. Technological advances
Because of technology, millennials were the first generation to grow up without learning how to maintain eye contact, become adept at reading facial expressions, or deepen awareness of the textures of emotions within themselves or others.
“This lack of emotional awareness, clinically called alexithymia, makes it hard for millennials to understand their thoughts and feelings,” Serani told Healthline.
2. Media overload
Serani says the media explosion of the internet created a 24-hour news cycle, which allowed millennial kids to access fearful news.
“Stories of terrorism, natural disasters, or catastrophes that were nonexistent generations ago, are now available around the clock,” Serani said. “Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear regarding these events permeated into the world of millennials either by witnessing such stories themselves, or through the contagious fear reactions from adults in their family circle.”
3. Everyone wins mentality
Serani says learning how to win or lose was replaced by the safety zone of the reset and pause button.
“‘Everyone gets a trophy’ or ‘there are no strikeouts’ impedes the natural learning curve of dealing with failure and building resiliency. As a result, many millennials encounter difficulty tolerating stressful events, frustrating easily, and avoiding demands so as not to feel overwhelmed,” said Serani.
4. Two-income households
As more parents began working to meet financial demands, Serani says the millennial generation experienced a change that generations before didn’t have to.
“Not having the ease that previous generations had, like family dinner time and predictable work and weekend hours, created a more solitary world for millennials, wrapping them in a bubble of avoidance and isolation even more,” she said.
5. Undefined work schedules
While many older millennials have the opportunity to work in careers that don’t have set schedules and allow for remote access, Serani says the downside is they find themselves working on weekends and during vacations.
“And as such, [they] never really have ‘away time’ to decompress or refuel. All of these instances heighten physical and emotional risk factors,” she said.
Dr. Jonathan Avery, director of addiction psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, adds that mental illness and substance use disorders start in adolescence and affect younger people more.
“And millennials these days have a host of stressors, can be more isolated, and are exposed to a range of new, addicting devices as well,” he said.
How millennials can help themselves
Nelson says the best thing millennials can do for their health is to seek out preventive care so they receive proper diagnosis and treatment before a condition becomes unmanageable or life-threatening.
However, the BCBSA survey found that one-third of millennials don’t have a primary care provider, and most do not receive regular preventive care. Furthermore, most millennials only visit a doctor when they’re sick or something is broken.