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A Neuropsychiatrist On Why The Pandemic Severely Hurts Millennial Mental Health

Daniel Amen, M.D.
Author:
August 26, 2020
Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist
By Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist
Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc.
Young Asian Woman Contemplating And Deep In Thought.
Image by W2 Photography / Stocksy
August 26, 2020

Feeling more stressed and depressed? You're not alone. A Census Bureau poll1 found that one-third of Americans are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Among younger Americans, the numbers are even higher. According to a survey from NRC Health, millennials (born from 1981 to 1996)—along with Gen Z (born in 1997 and onward)—are most likely to say their mental health has significantly worsened due to the pandemic.

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How the pandemic is affecting millennials.

Younger Americans are experiencing record rates of unemployment and a giant question mark when it comes to career prospects. Social distancing has made it nearly impossible to start a new relationship, and moving back in with Mom and Dad certainly isn't helping. It's forcing some millennials into an existential quandary wrapped up with anxiety and depression.

Making things worse, an increasing number of younger Americans are turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report2. The survey found that nearly one in four Americans ages 18 to 24 and one in five of those ages 25 to 44 had begun or increased substance abuse during the pandemic. Brain SPECT imaging studies performed at Amen Clinics show that drugs and alcohol may provide short-term relief from distressing emotions, but they damage the brain in ways that exacerbate mental health issues.

With all these stressors stacking together, along with unhealthy coping strategies, it's putting millennials at higher risk for suicidal ideation. The CDC's report revealed that a shocking 25% of 18- to 24-year-olds had contemplated suicide3 within the past month. So did 16% of 25- to 44-year-olds.

So, what's the solution?

Although the statistics paint a distressing picture, there are some strategies that might help. During this pandemic, I believe mental hygiene is as important as washing your hands. You need to disinfect your thoughts and redirect your attention away from all the negativity. Doing something as simple as starting your day saying "Today is going to be a great day" can direct your brain to look for reasons it will be great and can set you up for a brighter day. This is a process I refer to as "rewiring your negativity bias."

It's also beneficial to prioritize practices that have a positive impact on brain health, like hydration, sleep, exercise, and nutritious eating.

That said, if you're experiencing prolonged feelings of depression or other symptoms of mental illness, please consider seeking help from a medical professional. If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal depression, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Daniel Amen, M.D.
Daniel Amen, M.D.
Clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist

Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.