A Neuropsychiatrist On Why The Pandemic Severely Hurts Millennial Mental Health

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.

Feeling more stressed and depressed? You're not alone. A Census Bureau poll 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.

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 Report. 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 suicide within the past month. So did 16% of 25- to 44-year-olds.

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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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