Are Millennials more anxious and depressed?
Surveys of college counseling directors: The 2013 and 2015 reports found that anxiety is the most common presenting problem of their clients (42% in 2013/47% in 2015), followed by depression (36%/40%), and relationship problems (36%/32.5%). The 2015 report also found 20% had thoughts of suicide, 13% engaged in self-injury, and 11% alcohol abuse, while 26% of their clients take psychotropic medications.
Jesse Singal is a Millennial reporter for New York Magazine and other journals. He addresses “The Myth of the Ever-More-Fragile College Student” as popularized especially in articles in The Atlantic by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff who decry coddled students and a Psychology Today article by Hara Estroff Marano about “Crisis U.”[i] These authors charge that over-protective helicopter parents raised self-centered kids who too casually “hook up” and are unable to cope with stress or criticism. Overly politically correct these students demand trigger warnings against microaggressions and resent grades lower than an A. But Singal argues the authors’ evidence is merely anecdotal and the moral panic is unsubtantiated. His evidence to contradict the belief that students are more mentally ill than previous generations follows:
- Public mental health service have been cut since the 1990s, which puts more pressure on campus counseling centers as more young people turn to them for services. This caused a shift from traditional college counseling services like career counseling to mental health care.
- Enrollment rates are up, increasing the numbers and diversity of college students.
- Students today are more willing to seek help as counseling centers increase education about mental health.
- College counseling directors have reported things are getting worse in all the surveys available since 2004, because they tend to see the anxious depressed students.
- Students’ self-report of overwhelming anxiety in the past 12 month increased by 5% from 2009 to 2014 (rom 49% to 54%) after the recession and economic problems that began in 2008. They have reason to be anxious.
- Marano provides only two longitudinal statistics, one about surveys of counseling directors and the other reporting that the percent of students who self-injure increased from 21% in 2008 to 24% in 2014. But the 3% increase only pertains to counseling clients not students as a whole.
- Victor Schwartz, the medical director of the Jed Foundation that promotes mental health for students, told Singal that “there’s very little evidence to support” claims of increased fragility. Schwartz pointed out that student suicide rates have slightly gone down: “I think both of those articles missed the fact that here are real stresses…the world feels like a really anxious place for young people,” in terms of job prospects, debt burdens, and the news. Allan Schwartz, a psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester, examined data from five studies of college students conducted from 1996 and 2007. He didn’t find that pathologies had gotten worse and thinks the pessimistic belief from college counselors has become a widespread myth accepted as fact.
 Jesse Singal, “The Myth of the Ever-More-Fragile College Student,” New York Magazine, November 13, 2015.