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October 15, 2020

Nearly one in three millennials now suffer from mental health conditions, according to study

And COVID-19 could be making things worse – more than 90% of adults said the pandemic is negatively impacting them

Adult Health Research
millennials mental health COVID-19 Ben Blennerhassett/Unsplash

Among millennials since 2014, there has been a 43% increase in instances of major depression, a 17% increase in substance use disorders, and a 39% increase in those diagnosed with ADHD.

The rates of mental health conditions are on the rise among millennials, and the trend may be bringing down the overall health of the generation, a new study published Thursday finds.

Researchers found that among millennials since 2019, there's been a 12% increase in major depression, a 7% increase in alcohol use disorder, and a 5% increase in both tobacco use disorder and substance use disorder. The means nearly one in three millennials are now suffering from behavioral health conditions in 2020, according to the study published by theBlue Cross Blue Shield Association study.

Looking at the data going back six years, the downward trend is even more dramatic. Among millennials since 2014, there has been a 43% increase in instances of major depression, a 17% increase in substance use disorders, and a 39% increase in those diagnosed with ADHD.

The study defined millennials as people between the ages of 22 and 37 in 2018.

The increases showed the continuation of a trend highlighted in BCBS's 2019 report on the health of millennials. It also showed the continued impact the trend could have on millennials' physical health, researchers said.

"This report, driven by fresh insights into trends in millennials’ behavioral health, dives deeper into the impact of these conditions on millennials," said the authors of the study. "Millennials with a behavioral health condition are at twice the risk of having a chronic physical condition."

The BCBSA study found disparities among millennials suffering from behavioral conditions when looking at different ethnic groups. White millennials had higher rates of behavioral health conditions than millennials from majority Black and Hispanic communities, the study found. Researchers said the reason for this was "likely due to under diagnosis."

Rates of substance use disorder – or SUD – also differed among ethnic groups. White millennials were more likely to receive treatment for SUD than Black or Hispanic millennials. Overall, those with SUD were 46% less healthy than their undiagnosed peers, showing the impact of behavioral health on millennials' physical health.

The study measures and compares the health of millennials using a score between 0 and 100 that researchers called the BCBS Health Index, with 100 being a perfect score of optimal health, meaning the absence of disability and premature death. As disabilities and premature deaths are present, the health index drops below 100.

Looking at the data by geography, the overall health index for millennials in the United States was 95.7 in 2014. That same year New Jersey and Pennsylvania's indices were slightly lower, both at 95.4. By 2017, the U.S. health index for millennials had declined to 95.1. New Jersey dipped slightly to 95.3, but Pennsylvania slid further down to 94.5.

Regionally, the health index for Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metropolitan statistical area was 95.3 in 2014 and had fallen to 94.4 by 2017.

The study also looked at COVID-19's impact on millennials' health. It found there was a 34% increase in alcohol consumption, 20% increase in smoking, 17% increase in vaping, and 16% increase in non-medical drug use during the pandemic. All of these trends could have negative impact on behavioral health conditions, researchers said.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to further accelerate the rise of behavioral health conditions among millennials. Certain lifestyle behaviors have risen within this group since the outbreak began and these behaviors can lead to the development of behavioral health conditions or worsen existing ones," researchers wrote in the study.

Overall, 92% of millennials said that the coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health.

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