Opinion | Why millennials are suffering from depression
Instant gratification, on social media or otherwise, has led to a decrease in what therapists call ‘frustration tolerance’ among millennials
Several of my 23-year-old daughter’s friends have been—or are—in therapy for depression. Cases of depression are rising in elite institutes like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). This is not just anecdotal stuff. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that in 2015, over 50 million Indians suffered from depression. It also says that suicide has become the second leading cause of death for individuals 15 to 29 years of age.
Across the world, millennials are suffering from depression more than any other generation before them. Why is this so?
The first reason could be parenting. In the Indian middle class, many millennials have gone through either of two extreme types of parenting.
The first type of parents have put tremendous pressure on their children to be competitive and be the best in whatever they do. The child is constantly judged and compared with others, and berated, or praised to the high heavens, but always with the caveat that you are only as good as your last performance. He grows up psychologically stunted, and lacking social skills.
At the other end of the spectrum are parents, who were possibly pushed to be ultra-competitive by their own parents, and who want their children to grow up without any pressure on them.
They enrol them in “progressive” schools, where no ranks are given in exams. In sports meets, no child is declared the winner, and everyone is given a token award. So the child who ran the fastest feels no joy, and the child who got the token prize thinks he need not try harder.
These schools treat the parents as customers, and customer satisfaction is paramount. Punishment for unruly behaviour by students is unheard of, and teachers are often at the bottom of the power hierarchy.
These children often grow up feeling entitled, and that the world owes them something.
Whichever of the two types they belong to, these millennials, when they enter the adult world, are in for a rude shock.
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They have grown up in a world of information overload, instant gratification and social media. They have processed so much information—coming at them from every screen, angle and direction—that many of them have been left confused.
Plus there is so much to buy, and so easily. Just order it on a mobile app, and it’s there at your doorstep. With dating apps, you can do away with at least some of the bittersweet struggles earlier generations went through when pursuing a beloved.
If those high-stakes endeavours are diluted by tombola-like swipe-rights and non sequitur texting, relationships will certainly be weaker.
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Instant gratification has also led to a decrease in what therapists call “frustration tolerance”—a loss of ability to handle upsetting situations, allows for ambiguity and navigate normal life circumstances of breakups, bad exam results and job losses. This is where family and friends—real friends—can be of great help.
But study after study has shown that millennials feel lonelier than earlier generations. There is also enough research to prove that people who spend longer periods on social media tend to feel lonelier than those who spend less time.
On social media, one does not make real friends. Here, one is only looking for that little dopamine rush that comes with every “like” and retweet.
And you are trying to project that you are having a cool time. You are photoshopping yourself into a picture of the Eiffel Tower, pretending you are holidaying in Paris. Who can you tell how miserable you are?
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Because you’ve joined work. And you’ve found that though you’ve slogged away for years to be the best, no one gives a damn. And if you thought you were entitled, well, you find that the world owes you nothing. You are just another cog in the wheel.
The result: frustration, unhappiness, inability to understand what you did wrong in your personal and professional lives.
But the depressed millennial did not knowingly do anything wrong. It is the world which has done him a great deal of wrong. In fact, everything around him has contrived to keep him a lonely child.
A lot of millennials will have to make a super-extra effort to enter adulthood in full.
Sandipan Deb is a former editor of The Financial Express, and founder-editor of Open and Swarajya magazines.