It’s no secret that Millennials are a depressed generation with all the new sources of stress in their environment. But they’re not alone. Baby Boomers – born between 1946 to 1964 – have long held the title as the “depression generation”, demonstrating that living in “simpler times” doesn’t guarantee better mental health.
According to a 2015 Gallup Depression Rate Report among 170,000 adults, 1 in 7 U.S. baby boomers are being treated for depression, compared to 11% of Americans overall. Furthermore, 21% of Baby Boomers are diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.
But why are the numbers so high?
The most stressed generation
Depression is secretive and its exact causes remain mysterious to this day. So naturally, researchers aren’t completely sure why so many baby boomers suffer from depression. As the wealthiest and most educated generation, you’d think they would have a better mental well-being. But in reality, the opposite is true.
One theory is that doctors back in the day weren’t as knowledgeable as they are now about depression. Ailments such as post-partum depression, suicidal thoughts, or just plain old stress were either brushed off as just a “phase”, misdiagnosed, or ended up in many adults being overmedicated throughout their lifetimes.
Many Boomers themselves admit that due to the circumstances and societal pressure back in the day, they weren’t able to be open about their depression. This was due to pressure in the workplace, having to uphold expectations, and not wanting to “embarrass” their spouses or children. In many cases, they weren’t even certain what they were feeling was even depression at all.
Even now, the Boomer generation faces a unique set of daily stressors. They maintain wildly busy schedules and are often responsible for caring for both their own children and their aging parents. They generally must fund their children’s educations and their own fast-approaching retirements. What makes matters more complicated is that depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated for years, which allows the problem to fester and worsen over time.
So instead of enjoying the tail-end of a satisfying career, looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful retirement, and proudly watching their children grow into young adults, many Boomers with depression may be struggling just to make it through the day.
Depression and aging
Many studies have attempted to link age with depression. In fairness, society’s prioritization of youth can make the older crowd feel less valued and helpless. But depression is in no way a “natural part of aging”.
Depression can seep in at any point of life, and slowly rob you of your ability to do the things you once enjoyed. It adds stress to an already stressful lifestyle, takes meaning away from things that once felt important, and can put a strain on loving relationships.
But the fact that younger generations, such as Millennials, are already overtaking Baby Boomers as the most depressed generation is a sign that age is irrelevant. As of now, 1 in 5 Millennials is diagnosed with depression. With the growth of depression over the years, it’s becoming painfully clear that the trend is only increasing. So it’s fair to say the generations to come will only show higher rates than those before them.
Natural coping methods for depression
Learning how to cope with depression is important. Whether Boomers are the most “depressed generation” or not. So here are just a few natural methods:
Stick to a healthy routine
This means exercise, spending time with loved ones, and stress management. Be conscious of your stress level. Letting it spiral out of control can lead to irregular sleep and eating patterns, worsening your mental health. Taking a 15-minute brisk walk every day can help to clear your mind, and getting enough sleep is key to your overall well-being. Plan a good routine, write it down if you must, and make sure you stick to it. Depression tends to dampen motivation, so it’s important that you stay active and avoid spending the day in bed.
Avoid stressful situations
Work is usually the most stress-inducing environment. Break your large tasks down into smaller, bite-sized ones to make them easier to get through. Make a list of your task load and reduce those that cause more stress than productivity. Good tasks are those that generate a sense of accomplishment at the end. Also, make small changes to your environment to reduce stress levels. A clean desk inspires a cleaner mind. Add a plant, keep your pet in the room if you work from home. If you can, take your laptop and work outside. It’s important to also take small breaks every hour or so, and playing calming music can set a different tone to your day.
Talk to someone you trust
Not everyone understands depression, and trying to explain mental illness to someone who doesn’t have it feels like explaining a new color to the blind. So it’s important to choose someone who will actually listen to your experiences, or a professional who can relate to what you’re going through. Talk to a loved one for much-needed support, but also seek a professional for advice and proven coping methods like CBT. Despite what your depression tells you, opening up to someone does not make you a ‘burden’. It will make all the difference once your thoughts and feelings are heard and validated. If you’re not ready to speak to a person face to face, try online therapy. You can even appear as “anonymous” to keep your identity safe.
Maintain a positive environment
Spending 2 hours in nature has been shown to lower stress levels. Listen to nature sounds during work or break time if you’re unable to physically go outside. Also, try to surround yourself with empathetic people who also have (or understand) depression. The feeling of community is a great source of support and is highly comforting during the tougher days. Caressing an animal (like a pet) is also a great getaway from the negativity of daily life. Plus it’s equally therapeutic for the animal too.
Use helpful technology
Youths shouldn’t have all the fun. Even the most depressed generation have smartphones and a computer. There are plenty of apps and websites with healthy coping tips and some even offer private journaling and online therapy. Using technology is a low-cost alternative for treatment, which in the real world can easily surpass $1000 a month. These virtual step by step programs can be tailored to your situation and can guide you to a more balanced lifestyle, one day at a time.
Now you have the information, but it’s time to make something of it. Take a moment right now to choose two things from all the suggestions above. Write them down on a post-it and stick it where you will see it tomorrow. Whether it’s re-organizing your desk or simply spending 5 minutes outside, getting into the habit of these small changes can significantly improve your day.