Contributed By: Paulina Siegel, MSW, LCSW, CAC II
The term “Millennials” has come to mean more than just the first generation to come of age in the new millennium; it has come to represent a stereotype, one that, far from innocuous, can be detrimental to the long-term success and happiness of young adults. Technically speaking, Millennials are defined as individuals born between 1980-2000 (18-38 year olds), however, through extensive generational studies, scholars are now redefining the generation as people born between 1980-1996 (22-38 year olds). The variance in the literature highlights the challenging nature of our 85 million young adults today.
If researchers can’t decide what to make of the Millennial generation, neither can our mental health and addiction professionals. Millennials are the most misunderstood cohort and are harshly critiqued by previous generations (Gen X and Boomers). The ongoing disapproval that Millennials experience leads to heightened mental health symptoms, addiction, and exclusive generational issues. Working with Millennials for the last six years has allowed me to learn the culture, values, social norms and particular generational trends and patterns. I am a strong believer that Millennials need a personalized approach to best meet their unique needs. By tailoring our methods as mental health professionals, we are able to increase treatment outcomes and overall success.
The first step to increase treatment outcomes is to debunk the Millennial myths and stereotypes. It is clear that society views Millennials through a distorted lens, so it is our onus as mental health professionals to begin to shift the paradigm. It is our responsibility to create a fundamental change in our approach and underlying assumptions. Let’s take a moment to highlight some of the current stereotypes and myths.
At this point in the game, Millennials are conditioned to hearing that they are lazy, delusional, insincere, pampered, entitled or even narcissistic. These labels perpetuate ongoing struggle, discourage success, and lead to underperformance. For example, when Millennials hear that they aren’t worthy in the workforce, they will underachieve, often unconsciously. The stereotypes and biases listed above are one piece to this complex puzzle which unfairly keeps capable Millennials from thriving and flourishing. We as mental health professionals need to admit that we may have some biases towards young adults. In order to begin challenging our internal biases towards the generation, we need to educate ourselves on the Millennial culture, values, social norms, and their overall life experiences.
Here are some of the most common concerns that I address therapeutically with Millennial clients:
Millennials seem to doubt their self-value and ability to make a decision. In the research world, we call this “choice-overload.” Choice-overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. Although one may believe that options create more opportunity, we notice that it leads to paralysis. For example, when it comes to making a big decision such as leaving a job, taking a relationship to the next level or hitting developmental milestones, Millennial clients seem to experience heightened distress.
Millennials experience an eagerness to impress and reach for perfectionism. When these internal expectations aren’t met, a deep sense of guilt and shame present. Additionally, Millennials struggle with setting boundaries, creating realistic goals, and feeling “good enough” in the process.
Millennials experience intensified stress regarding finances and ponder whether they will make enough money to size up to their parents as well as create a plush lifestyle.
Millennials struggle immensely with dating and the process of finding a quality partner. Many Millennials report feeling hopeless, exhausted and defeated because of the tragedy of modern romance. We can blame dating apps for this one!
Millennials feel quite helpless about what is going on in the world, and feel overwhelmed by the news, injustices, and state of affairs.
Millennials struggle with authenticity because of social media promoting mock versions of life. Millennials are in a constant state of comparison and endlessly wonder if their lives are as good as their peers. Social media profiles have turned into an opportunity to show value to the world.
Lastly, Millennials demonstrate the highest levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation compared to previous generations. One of the biggest reasons for increased dual-diagnosis is the lack of coping and life skills.
As mental health professionals, we need to support Millennials in promoting a healthier quality of life. We need to value and prioritize these researched issues while continuing to challenge our biases through education. We need to give Millennials the skills and tools to cope with the stressors and demands of the world. We need to help them address their negative thoughts and feelings so that the negativity has less power and authority over their lives. These skills alone would allow Millennials to better manage stress, choice-overload, anxiety, and depression, and in return show up as more productive, dynamic, and constructive individuals.
Additionally, we need to guide Millennials in finding what is important and meaningful in their lives. By facilitating the discovery of their values, identity, and purpose, we will help them thrive. I invite you to take the time to dive into the Millennial research to become more informed, knowledgeable and supportive to our incredible young adults.
Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York: Ecco.
Paulina Siegel is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Certified Addiction counselor (CAC II) and master-level trained in mindfulness practice through Be Mindful. Paulina has extensive clinical experience working with teens and Millennials struggling with dual-diagnosis and had the privilege of working with these individuals throughout her community mental health journey (2012-2017). Paulina recently launched Courageous Paths Counseling in the Wash Park neighborhood and exclusive serves teens and Millennials (15-38 years of age). Lastly, Paulina is a Gen-Z and Millennial researcher and speaks about the literature in the Denver Metro Area specifically focusing on generational issues.