Millennials Face Health Consequences In Response To Economic Hardship
By Kerri Cooke
Every generation has its challenges. Tragic world events happen all the time. In the first half of the 20th century, World War I, the Great Depression and World War II dominated people’s lives. Baby Boomers’ lives were dominated by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and fears of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. However, Baby Boomers had the most disposable income available in history.
When the Millennial generation arrived, (noted by Blue Cross Blue Shield as individuals having been born between 1981 and 1996) economic conditions were beginning a slow slide.
Members of this generation were the first people to grow up in the age of the internet. We grew up in the shadow of the Columbine shooting, 9/11 and the Great Recession. And being connected via the internet has created access to a 24/7 news cycle that constantly reports on a great tragedy that has happened somewhere in the world.
According to a Blue Cross Blue Shield report, “The Economic Consequences of Millennial Health,” “Millennials are now the largest contributors to the U.S. labor market, comprising more than 35 percent of all workers and rising.”
For the Millennial generation, family and the school system pushed the idea of going to college. “You will only get a good job if you go to college,” they said. However, as Millennials began to graduate, they were burdened with student loans; a shifting labor market, which made it hard to find a job; low wages; and an increasing cost of living, including the rising cost of food, healthcare and housing.
Warning signs have begun to crop up that Millennials’ health is declining at a faster rate than that of those in preceding generations. BCBS says that a recent study showed that Millennials’ health begins to decline at age 27.
Healthline says there have been “double digit increases in diagnoses for eight of the top 10 health conditions” in Millennials recently.
The illness Millennials are at greatest risk for is a behavior health illness. In other words, Millennials are at higher risk for depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses than they are for cancer, for example.
Healthline puts the top 10 Millennials health conditions in order of prevalence as:
1. Major depression
2. Substance use disorder
3. Alcohol use disorder
6. Psychotic conditions
7. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
8. High cholesterol
9. Tobacco use disorder
10. Type 2 diabetes
To complicate matters, according to “BCBS Millennial Health: Trends in Behavioral Health Conditions,” the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened Millennial health. “Because of the pandemic, almost 60 percent of millennials have canceled a health-related appointment or procedure. In addition, isolation, stress and economic insecurity attributed to the pandemic have had a major impact on millennials. Almost 10 percent have lost their job due to the pandemic, 25 percent have seen a reduction in their work hours, and 23 percent have had to access savings to pay for their day to day needs.” And when questioned about their mental health, 92 percent of Millennials say the pandemic has had a harmful effect on their mental health.
According to the same article, if a Millennial has a mental health disorder, their risk for developing a chronic physical health condition doubles. And approximately 1/3 of this demographic has been diagnosed with a mental health condition (including things such as eating disorders). And doctors are continuing to see these numbers increase.
Millennials with a behavioral health condition are 2.7 times more likely to have coronary artery disease, 2.1 times more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes and 1.9 times more likely to experience hypertension.
According to The Harris Poll for CNBC’s Make It study, older Millennials, those born from 1981 to 1988, report having a chronic health condition at a rate of 44 percent.
BCBS claims, “Without intervention, Millennials could feasibly see mortality rates climb up by more than 40 percent compared to Gen-Xers at the same age.”
How Money Affects Health
One of the key things about health is that those who grow up or live in a financially stable environment are a lot less likely to suffer negative health outcomes. States like Louisiana, and other Southern states that tend to have a higher prevalence of poverty, have more people with more health problems than wealthier states.
Less healthy people are less productive because of their illness. They miss more work, and some cannot work at all. Often, these individuals have jobs which pay low wages. This creates a vicious cycle of poverty and ill-health that often continues generation after generation.
And guess what Millennials cite as one of their biggest worries today? If you guessed finances, you are correct. As the first generation in a good number of years with little disposal income, low wages and a high cost of living, it isn’t all that surprising to see this health data. When a generation doesn’t even know when it will be affordable for them to own their own home or if they can make their monthly healthcare payment, we know there’s a problem.
Healthcare premiums are already very high. But with Millennials suffering more ill health at a younger age, healthcare costs are expected to skyrocket over the next decade. And this will cause more financial worry.
The Kaiser Family Foundation says, “average annual premiums for family coverage through employer-provided health insurance rose 37 percent between 2015 and 2020, from $15,545 to $21,342. And for a family plan purchased through the Affordable Care Act marketplace in the same period, premiums rose 97 percent from $8,724 to $17,244.”
BCBS claims that in a worst case scenario, health insurance could be as much as “33 percent higher than Gen-Xers experienced at a comparable age.”
However, medical experts won’t know the extent of the crisis for a number of years yet as 40 is generally the age when you typically begin to see the prevalence of health conditions among a generation. Those born in 1996 won’t turn 40 for another 15 years.
Exponential Increases In The Top Three Millennial Health Conditions
In addition to behavioral health conditions, the prevalence of high blood pressure and high cholesterol among Millennials is worrying. It is thought that one of the contributing factors to these conditions is obesity. These initial diagnoses might seem relatively harmless, but they can eventually lead to heart attacks and other diseases later in life.
If we go back and analyze the top three conditions affecting Millennials — major depression, substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder — it is obvious that life is taking an emotional toll on the generation.
According to BCBS, in only five years (the last year studied being 2018), data showed there was a 43-percent increase in the rate of major depression in Millennials. There was also a 39-percent increase in diagnoses of ADHD within the age group. And according to Healthline, at least one in five Millennials is not seeking medical care for their depression.
The five-year rate of change for alcohol use disorder was five percent. And as many as 1 million Millennials with employer-provided insurance were diagnosed with substance use disorder in 2018, says BCBS. Over one-third of those diagnosed were abusing opioids. When surveyed, 52.6 out of 100 people who were abusing opioids also had anxiety. This number was higher than those who also had musculoskeletal conditions. In comparison to the population as a whole, Millennials who abuse opioids are 9.1 times more likely to be bipolar and 8.4 times more likely to be schizophrenic than the general population.
The Mind-Body Connection
What Millennials’ health profiles suggest is that mental health often directly affects physical health. (According to BCBS, 80 percent of Millennials believe that statement versus 62 percent of Baby Boomers.) So how do we address this other epidemic?
Early detection and prompt treatment of behavioral health conditions increase positive outcomes greatly. According to a BCBS survey, only a third of Millennials have a primary care provider, and they seek preventative care at a lower rate than previous generations, which leads us back to the economic conditions in the United States.
Healthcare for many is unaffordable. Others can afford their healthcare plan but not their deductibles. And the price for regular psychotherapy discourages many people from taking one of the most crucial steps they can take to aid their mental health.
Getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy foods and exercising all play important roles in the mental and physical health of Millennials. But until economic conditions improve greatly, stress will remain heavy in this age group. And stress is one of the most detrimental emotions to a person’s health.