By Emily Erickson
I started therapy about a month ago, which was my first time seeing a mental health professional since I sat plopped between my parents on a green couch below fluorescent lights for family counseling at age 9. In the 23 years that have passed since those sessions, I’ve certainly believed in the merits of therapy (even entertaining it as a career after graduating with degrees in sociology and psychology), but never made the jump to prioritize it for myself.
I could simultaneously champion others for caring for their mental health, know for certain I had things I needed to process for which a therapist could be incredibly helpful and, also, not book an appointment.
But after the stressors in my life started to resemble a car pileup — and I was recognizing its shrapnel in the most precious of places (my relationships with my family, friends, partner and work), I knew I needed the help of a professional to restore balance to my health and wellbeing.
I, like 35% of my Millennial peers, got a therapist.
True to form in our role as a “bridge between generations,” Millennials mark a shift from previous generations who considered therapy a last resort to solving their problems, and the following generation, which is the most open about its engagement with mental health services.
The American Psychological Association reports that 37% of Gen-Zers claim to have received help from a mental health professional (up 2% from the above-mentioned 35% of Millennials), compared to 26% of Gen-Xers, 22% of Boomers and 15% of older adults.
This uptick in mental health care among younger generations is reflective of an increase in cultural acceptance and destigmatization of mental illness and therapy.
My peers and I casually start conversations with, “My therapist says,” viewing therapy as just another aspect of a well-rounded self-care regimen — as routine as going to the gym and eating well. This is coupled with an increased propensity for sharing personal mental health struggles and increased awareness of mental health concepts (I’ll take that “My therapist says,” and raise you a, “I was triggered by”).
This openness seems to have stemmed from Millennials being the first generation raised with conversations around mental illness — both in the media and in our homes. We learned about conditions like anxiety, depression, and mood and eating disorders in school, and absorbed the early stages of cultural acceptance like NAMI’s 1996 “Campaign to End Discrimination” (its first official public awareness campaign), which advocated for mental illnesses to be discussed and treated as the legitimate medical conditions they are.
This is supported by a 2015 study by American University, affirming that, “Millennials are more likely to talk about mental health than their parents or grandparents.”
Generationally, as more people speak out, the stigma surrounding mental illness continues to lessen.
Acceptance of engaging in therapy holds within my own circles, too, with one woman responding to a prompt I shared on Instagram observing, “Most people in my generation [30s] feel very comfortable with therapy. My parent’s generation, on the other hand, feels much more like they need to be really broken to seek a therapist.”
When I posed another question to my peers, wondering what brought them to therapy in the first place, their reasons for signing up varied. Some started seeing someone as a way to process a specific event or trauma, while others sought support for managing everyday stressors and anxiety. Others still sought help with navigating complicated relationships, addressing familial strain or healing generational trauma.
One woman shared, “I sought it out after years of dealing with a traumatic incident that affected me and my relationships. I have a number of friends who do therapy regularly, just because.”
So far for me, therapy is helping reframe my experiences, allowing me to safely explore my reactions to my environment, and my role in contributing positively and negatively to my own reality. It is illuminating threads and throughlines from my past to my present, making me more confident as I charge into my future.
While I can’t officially claim the title of the “Therapy Generation,” for me and my fellow Millennials (a title some publications assert), I’m proud of playing a small part in paving the way for increased awareness and acceptance for generations to come.
So as far as I’m concerned, we can officially ditch the “Avocado Toast” and “Will Never Buy a House” tropes with which we’ve been stuck, opting instead for the new and improved, “We Know, We’re Working on It.”
Emily Erickson is a writer and business owner with an affinity for black coffee and playing in the mountains. Connect with her online at www.bigbluehat.studio.
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