By Angela De Santis
Very few things leave individuals with a sense of purpose and dignity. In the midst of a recession, many are not facing the ideal of self-fulfillment.
Michelle McClintock, a 29-year-old college graduate, is stuck. As she sits in her small, shared apartment, she heads off to another day of underemployment, like so many years before. Three jobs, student debt and a dusty degree leave her unsatisfied and unable to maintain even a small version of the American dream.
In the current age of opportunity, many people sympathize with McClintock. Despite efforts, optimism is scarce and depression in young adults is on the rise. What was successful for past generations is just a fantasy for Generation Y.
“No matter my qualifications or the amount of work I took at my jobs, I’ve stayed at a consistent level of employment that has yet to financially take care of me,” McClintock said.
Generation Y, the group born between 1977 to 1994, is the most depressed of all previous generations on record, according to an “All Psychology Careers” study based on the economy and modern technology. In an age of economic turnover and slow recovery, Generation Y has an overall state of mental instability and wonders if they can fill the gap that was lost.
“It seems like they are in financial melancholy,” said Alice Donahue, a psychology health worker in Piscataway, N.J. “They look at the house their parents live in and say, ‘I could work for 100 years and never afford this.’”
This condition is becoming severe for the younger “millennials.” According to Donahue, young adults who entered the job market in the start of the recession saw their parents dealing with pay cuts, job loss and household trouble. It was a foresight to their futures that left them somewhat hopeless, although not unwilling to try.
“This generation is amassing much less wealth than their parents had when they were the same age,” Donahue said. “They’ve been raised to think they are special and have more chances, but few have been rewarded for the same amount of schooling, or more, as previous generations.”
The overall net worth of this generation has decreased, making for a shakier retirement in the future. And as the best-educated generation to date, it seems to be an unfair correlation.
Generation Y professionals entering the workforce are finding careers that once were gateways to high pay and upwardly mobile lives, now turning into dead ends. Average incomes are still falling somewhat, even as 2014 seems more promising.
“I’ve worked incredibly hard during and after college,” McClintock said. “I accepted I couldn’t get a career in what I’d gone to school for, but after finding something else I could pursue, it still seemed impossible. I’ve been stuck for too long.”
McClintock resides in an openly depressive state and claims to have felt this way for many years, mostly dealing with it in the form of denial.
“I just want to finally earn everything I’ve worked for,” she said. “I deserve it, and because of bad timing, I’m not getting it.”
For the first time, a whole generation might not prove to be wealthier than the one that preceded it.
As digital natives, young adults have also grown up in a constantly wired environment — connected by transferring from desktop, to game console, to cellphones and tablets.
According to researchers at Michigan State University, multi-media use has increased about 20 percent in the past decade among young adults. Of them, a majority are now handling more than one electronic device at a time. This trend is leading to more reported cases of anxiety issues and mental health problems.
“As much as job scarcity is a hope-crusher, being able to see everyone else’s success firsthand is extremely difficult to cope with,” Donahue said. “You start to feel like you’re not in control of your life.”
Social Media Depression is a coined term in the mental health field, cluttering the minds of the first fully-exposed generation. The process of using it can become an addiction in itself, according to Donahue. All types of addiction can lead to depression and damage, and “social media may be causing it on a larger scale than any other drug before.”
It is no wonder to researchers why Generation Y is significantly more depressed than previous generations. Resources are changing at quicker speeds and are having as many negative impacts as positive ones, while hope for growth in important living prospects is still stagnant.
“We’re a generation that had really high expectations,” junior history major Nicole Prozzo said. “We constantly want more — that’s part of this time. The difference is it’s harder to obtain.”
To increase energy and drive, both young adults and professionals believe in the idea of taking care of your body to keep you motivated. This includes sleep, exercise, healthy eating and meditation.
And while many are aware of those benefits, it proves easier said than done. In McClintock’s case, multiple jobs with hours into the morning don’t lend themselves to a healthy living environment.
According to a Forbes business article, personal goal-setting and having deadlines are important to success in anything. But in a generation that focuses on instant gratification, there has been a decrease in being tolerant of what’s happening rather than what’s thought “should be” happening, Donahue said.
“It seems like people think they have to pretend to be content because they see other people living their lives that way, and that just adds to depression,” junior technology education major Kevin Cardenas said.
Acceptance is essential in working toward a healthier mindset. But there is no doubt that Generation Y’s mindset isn’t historically healthy as a whole.
“I had a lot of faith in the system,” McClintock said. “That sort of tradition that if you work really hard you can achieve anything … it’s hard to believe in that anymore.”
As hope becomes a rarity among a rising generation, depression spreads and the American dream fades.
“There are dark moments,” McClintock said. “But I hope our generation can eventually see past that.”