Today, 20 percent of millennials suffer from depression, as opposed to 16 percent of Generation X and 16 percent of baby boomers. If you’re an employer, this fact could have a major impact on the success of your business, as millennials now comprise the largest generation in the workforce. And if you’re a millennial, you should be aware that your cohort is more susceptible to depression and understand how that plays out in the workplace.
Recently, Vault had the opportunity to learn more about the effects of millennial depression from Dennis Miller, the former CEO of Somerset Medical Center who himself has suffered from depression and now serves as a strategic leadership coach and motivational speaker. Miller spoke with us about the effects of depression on work performance, the steps employers can take to address mental health issues in the workplace, and his own experience with depression. He also offered advice on how to manage mental illness in order to be successful in one’s career.
According to Miller, there are several potential causes for the high rates of depression among millennials. He notes, “Millennials are one generation that for the first time do NOT feel they will do better than their parents. They graduated from schools focusing on test taking and not on building competencies.” In other words, Miller thinks that receiving an education focused on test taking does not equip millennials with the skills they need to succeed in the real world. This, coupled with feeling inadequate compared to their parents, could lead millennials to develop depression.
Another factor Miller cites as contributing to millennial depression is dependence on social media. Seeing friends’ seemingly perfect “highlight reels” can cause social media users to think that their own lives pale in comparison and make them feel insecure and excluded. Even “positive” interactions on social media can prove problematic; research has shown that a “like” on social media results in a real-time release of dopamine in the brain, which, if indulged too frequently, can cause dependence. When a person is dependent on these “likes,” a marked absence of them can lead to depression.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that depression costs employers millions of dollars every year. The reason for this is depressed employees miss more work days and often have trouble focusing when they do show up to work, resulting in lower levels of productivity.
To address this distressing increase in depression among younger employees, Miller recommends employers create a culture of understanding and establish a workplace environment that welcomes treatment and eliminates the stigma associated with mental illness. From holding regular check-in meetings with employees to upholding a true work-life balance, employers can take concrete steps to help their employees stay as mentally healthy and productive as possible. Miller also suggests that companies bring in mental health experts to train managers on how to recognize signs of mental illness and how to motivate depressed employees to seek help.
In Miller’s own experience with depression, getting professional help was instrumental to changing his outlook on life and putting him on the path toward success. In his autobiography Moppin’ Floors to CEO: From Hopelessness and Failure to Happiness and Success, Miller details his trajectory from grappling with mental illness and getting treatment, to mopping floors at a Ramada Inn in his first job, to eventually getting a degree from Columbia and going on to become a CEO of a major medical center. He explains his motivation for writing this book: “I wanted to share my story with the hope that others would be inspired to achieve their dreams despite their present or past life difficulties.”
Finally, Miller offers some career advice for those currently struggling with depression. He recommends seeking help, whether it be from a professional, a friend, colleague, individual in HR, or a faith-based organization. He emphasizes that no matter what, it’s important to remember: “Depression is not a character flaw. It is a biochemical issue in the brain or a result of trauma, loss, or abuse.” For employers and depressed employees alike, it is paramount to keep this in mind when addressing mental illness in the workplace.