Written by UKCP member, Simon Stafford-Townsend
As a therapist who is also a millennial, I’m keen to contribute a perspective on the idea of “millennial stress” for this year’s Mental Health Awareness week.
To help inform this article I set up an online survey, and used social media to reach out to other millennials to find out what they thought about millennial stress. With the caveat that such a survey is limited by sample size, respondent self-selection, and bounded by my social media reach, familiar themes emerge.
The most common source of stress in responses was money and financial concerns generally. Renters worry about making rent, homeowners worry about meeting mortgage payments. One of the millennial edges to this is the belief that homeownership is out of reach.
Millennials overlap heavily with the idea of Generation Rent, and the housing crisis is our everyday life.
A wide range of responses can all be grouped under the core therapeutic material of personal issues. These are the concerns a person has about the unfinished business of their past; their present concerns about relationships, loneliness, self-esteem, health, the roles they occupy; and their fears for the future.
Two other strong themes are work stress, and current affairs; together with money, these form the social context in which millennials find ourselves. These stressors combine with social identities like class, gender, disability, race, sexuality etc in unique ways, and these social identities stack. The importance of intersectionality to the practice of psychotherapy starts to become clear.
Millennials want to be seen as individuals, not simply typecast as millennials. We are especially wary of older generations viewing us through pre-conceptions that paint us as workshy or over-sensitive.
At the same time, it’s important that psychotherapists remain mindful that the social context for millennials is one of heightened uncertainty. Jobs are less secure, homeownership is less attainable, and the world is undergoing rapid and unpredictable change.
For me, the lesson for psychotherapists can be summed up in the expression, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Millennials are stressed by mostly the same things by which every generation is stressed. The core work of psychotherapy remains more or less the same.
It is maybe important that psychotherapists are mindful of the age of their client more than the generation to which they belong, and this brings me back to the idea of intersectionality. Beautifully summed up in the concise comment that “being a woman of colour does not help with any of the above”, intersectionality emphasises the way in which aspects of social identity intersect to create unique social pressures and oppressions.
I may be a millennial, but I am also white, male, straight, University educated, working class, cis-gender. Change male to female, or white to black, or working class to middle class, and the kinds of social forces I’m subject to change dramatically. It may be that knowing I’m a millennial is less important than knowing that I’m currently 37.
If the idea of millennial stress is going to be therapeutically useful, then it needs to be rooted in an understanding of how millennials experience the world events and social forces that have shaped and continue to shape our lives.
Simon Stafford-Townsend is a UKCP registered Gestalt psychotherapist in Bristol, and blogs about therapy at The Bristol Therapist.