Young Minds: Millennials facing increased rates of stress compared to other generations

TORONTO — They may not have kids to feed, house mortgages to pay or a minivan, but Canada’s generation of the future is feeling the stress.

Millennials — or those 18 to 33 years old — are feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders, more so than Baby Boomers and even Canadians born in the Generation X time frame.

They’re armed with technology, are highly educated, and were promised a world of career climbing, salaries and stability if they play by life’s rules; get through school and a multitude of extra-curricular activities.

Instead, some Millennials are juggling multiple jobs outside their field of study. They’re managing student loan debt and paying bills.  In Canada, the debt from student loans is $15 billion dollars, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

Perfectionism pandemic playing a role in rising stress

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Millennials are encountering an “epidemic of perfectionism,” which is likely going hand in hand with rising anxiety rates, according to Dr. Gordon Flett, a psychology professor at York University and Canada Research Chair in personality and health.

“So we’ve got a lot of people going around, feeling this enormous pressure and they add to it, in terms of pursuing these impossible standards and buying into this pressure and trying to live up to it,” Flett said.

The generation was told they could do anything — so the pressure’s on them not only to succeed but to be perfect.

“This is setting up a very large segment of the population for disappointment later in life.”

Read more: Young Minds: Stress, anxiety plaguing Canadian youth

Fifty-two per cent of Millennials say their stress is so worrying, it’s kept them up at night, according to the American Psychological Association, which has measuring stress levels since 2007.

Seventy-six per cent of Millennials’ top concern is work. Canada’s youth unemployment rate sits at 14 per cent right now.

This week marks the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week.

The organization estimates that the total number of 12 to 19 year olds at risk of depression is a staggering 3.2 million.

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Children’s Mental Health Ontario is also marking its mental health week from May 5 to May 11.

More than any other age group, Millennials have been told by a health care provider that they have depression or an anxiety disorder, the APA says.

The Millennial stress is even akin to the all-encompassing anxiety medical professionals in high stakes environments encounter, Flett said.

“They’re working 10 to 14 hours a day, while juggling school and other activities. It could lead to burnout or even physical pain.”

“I honestly do believe we have a bigger problem. And it starts with anxiety and related problems with depression,” Flett said.

Promising students to hopeful job applicant

Alexandra Knoll did what she could to secure a good job after school: she graduated from McGill University with a degree in psychology, she volunteered at a non-profit organization and she conducted research for a professor during the school year.

In the past year, she sent out close to 100 resumes for job applications, most of which she didn’t hear back from or she was rejected.

“ I honestly wake up most mornings feeling stressed…anxiety in my mind of ok, what am I going to do now?”

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“I went to a really great school and I really loved learning there and what I was learning. And I just don’t feel stimulated. So it’s really stressful, constantly thinking about my future and what my next steps are,” she told Global News.

Read more: Young Minds: Stigma keeps youth suffering from mental health issues in the dark

Millennial Alex Knoll shares her experience of looking for work and the daily stress of trying to pay the bills and figure it all out. 

To make ends meet, Knoll, who now lives in Toronto, works about 50 to 60 hours a week as a server at two restaurants. She writes movie reviews on the side and she transcribes for a documentary production company to supplement her income.

“I make enough money to survive…it’s really unstable, though,” Knoll said.

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“I kind of never really know from week to week if I’m going to have enough hours or not.”

Mind games hurt Millennials’ mental health

What’s worse is that Millennials have social media outlets to keep in touch with friends, old classmates and coworkers. Often times, the group is comparing themselves to others.

Flett says that comparing our lives to others is dangerous.

“Really what has to be focused on is self worth doesn’t have to be contingent on meeting certain expectations for achievement and accomplishment,” Flett said.

“We know that by in large, comparing yourself with others is not a good thing to do. It’s something that’s motivated by a sense of anxiety and uncertainty,” he said.

Dr. Gordon Flett, psychology professor at York University, speaks about the pressure on Millennials and his research on perfectionism. 

Knoll says she knows her generation is marred by a reputation for coasting through life. She doesn’t believe that’s the case, though.

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“A lot of people think that our generation is lazy and chooses to do nothing or laze around and enjoy this limbo … and it’s not that at all. It’s just impossible to find stable work,” she said.

Using tools to cope with stress

Flett, who is raising two daughters who are Millennials, suggests that young Canadians need to make mistakes, and they shouldn’t be afraid, too. In learning, you gain problem solving skills and some resiliency.

“You need to learn how to cope on a variety of levels. You need to deal with mistakes and not see that it reflects personal flaws, and all the self criticism that comes with it,” Flett said.

That learning comes from failure. Flett suggests that parents even shed light on some of the life lessons they’ve learned to help them gain some wisdom.

“In the world of perfectionism, kids love to hear about the times when their parents made a mistake. It’s a way to get a lot of family interaction and it destroys this notion that my parents are perfect,” Flett said..

Families and communities also need to love and support their kids and siblings during these trying times, Flett says.  Adding more programs that address stress in student populations need to be rolled out as well.

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Read more: Young Minds: Many boys not reaching out for mental health help

For Knoll, talking to others in similar situations and writing in her journal has offered some release.

She said she’s thinking of heading back to school.

“I thought I would have some sort of job right now that would help propel me either to go back to school or to further me in whatever career I had,” she said.

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