With each year comes new resolutions, and none more universal than health. But don’t worry my fellow millennials, it seems we already make health a habit.
“In general, millennials take care of themselves a lot better than folks at their age of previous generations,” said Dr. Daren Wu, chief medical officer for Open Door Family Medical Center and Foundation, which operates five centers located throughout Westchester.
Point for us, millennials. Credit to the generations before us, telling us that smoking is bad, wearing a helmet is vital and that we will overheat like a turkey in the oven if we wear a sweatshirt to bed. Emphasis on that last point.
Besides our healthy habits, millennials have leveraged the power of technology and integrated it into our lifestyle.
“Millennials are all about different kinds of ways of finding information. Boomers make appointments to learn how to eat better for their gout, their diabetes or their high triglycerides, whereas millennials, who are more tech savvy, will just google that,” Wu said.
Despite our proactive nature, millennial health is, unfortunately, in jeopardy.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, millennials may be the first generation to see our life expectancies level off or even decline. Which is really upsetting news, as I plan on keeping my heart beating until I can attend an NSYNC reunion concert.
A 2019 report published by Blue Cross Blue Shield took a deep dive into millennial health, and the results were troubling. Between 2014 and 2017, there was a 30 percent increase in major depression among millennials. This increase is causing millennials to self-medicate, most notably on opioids. In October 2017, opioid use was declared a national health emergency. In 2018, Westchester County police reported 213 overdoses, 68 of which were fatal.
“I think millennials have grown up in a world that has much more uncertainty in it, and that uncertainty bombards them on a daily basis,” said Dr. Diane Urban. Urban, a psychologist and college professor, has been practicing in Westchester for close to 30 years and is also the founder of real-matters.com, a website dedicated to exploring interpersonal relationships through the lens of psychology.
Environmental factors aside, technology can also be detrimental.
“Technology, social media, the availability of information, while awesome in so many respects, I think is very damaging psychologically,” Wu said.
The 24/7 news cycle can be draining. Tragic news was once confined to the five o’clock news hour or the print in a daily paper, but now we are bombarded with bad news regularly.
Social media also plays a large part in mental health for us millennials. Instagram has transformed what was once keeping up with the Joneses next door, to keeping up with countless jetsetters and celebrities. And no matter how many times I sing “Let’s Get Loud,” I’ll never be Jenny from the block, just that ginger girl from around the corner who no one wants to hear sing.
While many millennials are plagued with mental health issues, we do have one boon that separates us from previous generations: we are far more amenable to talking about our mental health.
“I think millennials are much more open to seeking out mental health services than past generations,” Urban said. “They see it for what it is – a natural part of a healthy life and not something that one should be ashamed of needing.”
We millennials may be reliant on our robo-doctors, but it’s imperative that millennials make sure to also cultivate a relationship with a real-life doctor.
“Be in connection with an actual medical practitioner,” Wu said. “An ounce of prevention is really worth so much.”
Also remember that health is holistic, and both the body and mind need to be treated.
“Live your life on your own timeline,” advised Urban. “Don’t let social media get in your head where it whispers where you should be, what you should be doing, how you should be doing things. Try changing the shoulds to needs or wants and see where it takes you.”
So get up, get outside and leave your cell phone in the car. And millennials, if you’re looking for an off-line activity, may I suggest stepping away from the computer and picking up a copy of The Examiner? Heard there are excellent columns to read.
Erin Maher is a writer in Westchester County, N.Y. Find more of her musings at erinmaherwrites.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erinmaherwrites.