Exploring the emotional grit woven through the lives of today’s twenty-something women is more than just a money tree for the lovely Lena Dunham, it’s an invaluable way for millennial women to stay healthy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women in their twenties are twice as likely to be clinically depressed than their male counterparts. What’s more, the onset for clinical depression (along with a handful of other serious mood disorders) most typically hits in the mid-twenties.
Hang on, there's more.
Conditions that help to stave off depression are things like job stability, strong social networks and positive self-esteem.
Ummm, yea. Good luck maintaining that trifecta in one of the most transitional, confusing, unstable-in-the-most-basic-of-ways decades of life, otherwise known as your twenties.
Now, before we really get into the mix of this topic, just a heads up that this post can be a total downer until the end bit. (I mean, it is about depression.) That said, the intention is not to exacerbate pre-existing negative feelings, it’s to normalize those feelings, name their many sources and mobilize positive change. (Think arm muscle emoticons).
Ok, now back to the depressing-ish facts on the ground..
A recent study reported that the unemployment rate for millennials is 16.1%, more than double the national average. Compounding the stress, strong social networks (actual live human networks, not twitter followers) are much harder to maintain when transitions in jobs, schools and apartments has you and all your peers in a constant state of flux.
Serious romantic relationships often begin to blossom in your twenties and life seems to open up. Everything is exhilarating, impassioned and wonderful…until it’s not.
The loss women feel after a break-up can often trigger a depression. Just as your world was opening up, it reverts to quietly shrinking around you.
As expected, none of the above pitfalls do wonders for your self-esteem. While everyone is telling you to be yourself, you’re trying to figure out exactly who that woman might be. How can I be myself when I don’t know who that is yet?
The outside response to all the commotion comes in the form of a good ole’ fashioned mixed message.
On the one hand, you hear, “Take your time, discover yourself, enjoy life, don’t get married too soon or paint yourself into a corner.” On the other hand, you have this brilliant woman encouraging you to get your expletive together asap, lest you drift through your thirties in a toaster-filtered haze.
Both sides make an excellent point, which is not exactly a convenient factor in deciding what to do next.
The four stages of a quarter life crisis are marked by a unique brand of anxiety that’s just for millennials. (How special.) It’s an anxiety that steadily and constantly churns out of (among other sources) the elephant in the room that everyone’s kind of sick of talking about at this point but still needs to figure out: can we really have it all?
The circular thoughts and feelings involved in choosing the right professional and personal trajectories create a vortex of anxiety that spirals you into an anti-climactic stuckness. You’re basically riding a life-gravitron with an operator who’s taking a way-too-long bathroom break.
Even if you figure out how to stop spinning, you’re still too dizzy to immediately walk straight and move forward.
But there’s no time to slow down when you can have it all (as millennial women are constantly told) so it’s understandable when so many young women respond to the immense amount of paradox pressure around them by constantly pushing themselves to get up and go, even if they’re too dizzy to see the rabbit hole of depression right in front of them.
For many young women, the fall is fast and the landing is anything but soft.
Important life decisions are often made from this disoriented, rushed state, typically resulting in living a life that’s not even close to an authentic reflection of who you are and what you want.
This is about the right time for isolation to set in. Everyone on facebook is looking happy, refreshed, recently promoted and engaged, all while you’re binge-watching Netflix and mindlessly snacking on a drug-store inspired menu of processed foods.
So what’s the point of advertising the twenties as a maelstrom of drama, dysfunction and instability? Because when no one tells you that everyone is just as stalled as you are, you start attributing the stalling in your life to a defect within yourself, and that is incredibly damaging to your psyche.
Please allow me to repeat that: unwarranted self-blame poisons the psyche.
When your identity is TBD, it’s not a good call to start aligning yourself with the frustrations and difficulties around you. When you ignore the external factors contributing to depression, you’re basically blaming yourself exclusively and cementing a false identity of someone who just can’t get it together, despite the plethora of opportunities you're inundated by.
Again, the point of this post is not to be a complete downer and provide rationalization for an extra round of work drinks later—the point of this post is to normalize the developmental challenges millennial women face.
The successive point of normalizing developmental challenges is to normalize the natural adverse reactions to said challenges (i.e. feeling sad, confused, anxious, etc.).
There are legitimate cultural, personal, economic and physiological factors (depression and anxiety are physiological as much as they are psychological) that are presenting serious challenges to the emotional health of millennial women. And so much of what needs to be talked about is outside the scope of a single post.
For example, the majority of women in their 20’s who use contraceptives use hormonal-based birth control, but before finding the right birth control method, women usually switch from this pill to that pill to that shot, etc.
These fluctuations typically disrupt mood predictability, which in turn disrupts mood regulation. Despite major physiological changes in their body, women still blame themselves for feeling ‘off’ (i.e. being at an increased risk for a depressive episode) while transitioning and/or using hormonal contraceptives.
Perhaps most notably absent, this post hasn't even broached the psychological consequences of the sexual abuse and violence that is tragically common for women to encounter in their college years and beyond.
It’s only natural to be negatively impacted by these serious external issues, yet so often women falsely attribute their negative feelings to personal inadequacy and failure.
In a time when being independent and ‘all grown up’ is emphasized, asking for help can feel like some sort of vague personal defeat. It’s not.
If you’re feeling weighted down in a way you can’t seem to shake, I hope this post helps you to make sense of why and to understand that your reactions are normal and natural responses to an incredible amount of stress. Recruit support. Talk with your family and friends, talk with your doctor, use Psychology Today’s therapist locator to connect to a professional, read books about personal development, if you live in NYC, email me for an appointment, address what you feel.
The twenties present a unique curriculum for learning about life, love, self-forgiveness, boundaries, empowerment, self-care and what it means to truly be healthy. Taking on these lessons alone is not what being independent is about. Whatever being at your best looks like for you, you deserve to be there. Now go get some fancy nail art and think about that.
Lets end on a positive, what's the best part about being in your 20's? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!