“There’s nothing wrong with you,”said [Mom/Dad/Grandparent]. “You’re just being dramatic.”
Too often have millennials heard this phrase and received these words when they were seeking comfort. A generation brought up under intense, emotional stress, having their feelings and emotions undermined. There are times throughout one’s youth where, yes, they are most definitely being dramatic, but that doesn’t mean that every cry for help doesn’t deserve some form of validation. It is this lack of validation, this desire to assume that nothing is actually wrong but instead that one is being dramatic, that I think has lead millennials on a rampage of self-diagnosis and publication, therefore desiring validation where they could never find it.
I will neither confirm nor deny anybody’s mental illnesses. Depression is real and it’s destructive, but it’s also so often mistaken for being upset or feeling disappointed in one’s situation. Anxiety is tangible and overwhelming and miserable, but that doesn’t mean that all stress, which can at times bring on those feelings, is the same as anxiety. The aforementioned, as well as countless other mental illnesses (OCD, ADD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc.), have become, especially with the increasing individual social media presence, a central point of discussion for many young men and women.
Not because they’ve seen a doctor or a therapist and someone has told them that what they’re feeling isn’t just sadness or a feeling of overwhelmedness resulting from outside factors, but because they are seeking validation and will turn to putting labels on their feelings as a means of garnering external support. It’s much easier to empathize with someone who's not simply ignoring their responsibilities and then swimming in the aftermath, than someone whose “ADD” leaves them with “Anxiety” about tasks they can’t complete because they can’t focus.
It’s easy to understand why this is happening; millennial brains are, and I myself am admitting to this as I make this generalization, wired to desire constant attention and focus. Narcissism is prevalent in a culture that spends most of its time staring at photos of other people and sharing photos of yourself in everyday situations, and understandably so. There also wasn't the right outlets, as there has never really been, for kids to seek mental health and guidance without feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable, having to ask a parent to pay for it, or making some sort of effort to see a guidance counselor who is more concerned with scheduling 20 students into an AP History class, than with your feelings.
However, this does not mean that it’s not problematic. While unfortunately if I could, I would kiss the foreheads of all of my contemporaries to make them feel validated, such would not solve the problem. Lots of the issues that young people face are, in fact, their own damn fault. Part of growing up is learning to deal with these mistakes and not just deflect them into a category of self-inflicted mental illness. So while part of the issue is that we can’t diagnose people if they don’t see a doctor, we also can’t diagnose people if they don’t have anything actually wrong with them, but are instead lazy or maybe a little self-absorbed.
Part of the issue is by feeding into these conspiracy-style mental illness diagnoses, we are also invalidating people who struggle with real mental illnesses every day. Imagine hearing day-to-day rhetoric whereby what you’re going through, what you’re taking pills for or staying up until two in the morning for, is being used to describe the sensation of forgetting to do one’s homework because they were out all night. Imagine not being able to find validity in your own issues because others are inflicting it upon themselves.
People with real anxiety often won’t spend so much time ruminating on their anxiety because it’s not easy to talk about and it’s not comfortable to bring up in a group conversation. People with depression oftentimes don’t like to publicize it because they don’t like to publicize their struggle with something that so many people see as self-inflicted. It takes great strength to come out with a serious mental illness, and only a little strength to come forward about one that you’ve decided you have.
It’s okay to seek validity and it’s okay to feel mentally unhealthy, but if such is the case you shouldn’t take to social media to proclaim that you are a slurry of mental illnesses bottled up into one photogenic post-teenager. If we’re trying to open the discussion on mental illness, to relinquish the taboos that have hindered the subject for so long, we have to stop making it seem like it isn’t worth discussing; that it’s a product of lazy twenty-somethings not being able to take care of themselves.