Millennial workers are different from their older workplace counterparts in a variety of ways. However, one difference in particular is cause for alarm. According to a recent report by Catapult Health, millennials are more likely to be depressed and more likely to consider suicide than other generations in the workforce.

The report, "Depression and the American Workplace," is based on an analysis of over 150,000 preventive health checkups that Catapult Health conducted in the past year in various workplace settings around the country. It represents responses from most industry segments, including law enforcement, retailers, banks, engineering firms, religious organizations, utilities, state governments, chemical plants, and primary and secondary schools.

Catapult’s Patient Health Questionnaire, a nine-item depression screening tool, is designed to help clinicians uncover moderate or severe depression or suicidal ideation. According to the report, 4.8% of respondents in the 18-29 age group were depressed, which is higher than any other age group, and is in stark contrast to the 1.7% of depressed employees who were 60 years old or older.

The study also reveals that 33% of the employees who were planning suicide were in the 18-29 age group, although this age group only accounts for 12.6% of the population.

It should be noted that employees who indicate any degree of suicidal ideation are referred to the appropriate medical professional. However, why is this group more likely to grapple with these issues?

Why millennial workers are more likely to be depressed and suicidal

Baby boomers actually started the trend of increasing rates in depression, and it’s been bumped up by millennials, according to Dr. Kevin Gilliland, Director of Behavioral Health at Catapult Health.

"The most likely influencers are more information (internet/social media) to process than they can handle, over-involved parents that delay adult decisions and consequences, and the overall population trend of increasing depression and suicide," Gilliland says.

Spending more time on the internet and social media results in fewer “real” relationships and increased feelings of isolation and disconnection. "It also means less time interacting in real-life situations, and this may contribute to some of the lack of confidence and security we see in millennials, potentially leading to increases in anxiety and stress when they step into the workplace."

Another factor could be the contrast in how workers on the opposite end of the generational spectrum view work. Gilliland says millennials want their company to have a purpose and a positive impact on society. "Since most millennials are starting their career and are lower on the org chart, they are often in positions that have little influence on the things they value — and we humans don’t like that."

On the other hand, he says baby boomers take a different view. "They tend to see work in a more limited space with lower expectations about its involvement outside of its line of business."

Liat Jarkon, D.O., M.P.H., is an assistant professor in New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has also spent 32 years in private practice as a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. Jarkon is not surprised by the report’s findings, and notes suicide is the second leading cause of death among all millennials.

"I have observed a disturbing and serious trend in millennials, who appear to be lacking the proper coping mechanisms with which to navigate their lives," Jarkon says. She believes some of this is a result of helicopter parenting and the expectation that most, if not all, conflicts should be resolved immediately.

In addition, Jarkon says that many millennials believe that they are "the most special," "the best," and the "most talented." And then reality sets in.

"When they do not meet these unrealistic expectations — which often have been imposed on them by well-meaning but psychologically misinformed parents — they start to develop the sense that they do not deserve to continue their pursuit of life."

In addition to depression, she says the rates of bipolar disease, ADHD, and anxiety disorders are also increasing in this age group. "And many millennials are embarrassed to seek help or even to tell their parents, due to the stigma associated with mental illness."

Recognizing the warning signs

Education is a powerful intervention tool, according to Gilliland. "I’ve seen quite a few people at Innovation 360 (an outpatient counseling service where Gilliland practices and is the Executive Director) that read something at work or in the paper that described the symptoms of depression and that’s how they realized they had been struggling with it."

He also recommends a booklet, "Depression: What You Need to Know," by the National Institute of Mental Health. "Two of the most common symptoms that most people have are a loss of pleasure and joy in things they like, and fatigue or a loss of energy."

However, symptoms can vary by gender. Men are more likely to report biological/physical symptoms like sleep loss, and being tired and irritable. On the other hand, Gilliland says women are more likely to report psychological issues like sadness, guilt, and worthlessness.

While you may see commercials on TV that feature people who can’t get out of bed or function at work, that’s not typical. “Millions of Americans have depression and are full-time employees, parent kids, go to school, and coach sports,” he says.

How to help millennials who may be depressed or suicidal

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a therapist to help people who are struggling with depression. "Educating managers and directors on the symptoms and treatment options is a great first step for companies," Gilliland says. "A little training on how to identify and have brief talks can have a significant impact."

And by doing this, you’re also creating a culture that is mindful of employee health and well-being.

Other ways to promote mental illness awareness and conversations include starting campaigns and hosting events.

Jarkon says these steps raise awareness, stop the stigma, and also offer hope and resources. "In addition, companies can screen for mental illness; ideally, they would even have an onsite mental health counselor available," she says.

"While the increasing tendency toward suicide among millennials is clearly a serious situation, I do believe it can be managed and outcomes can be improved with the proper prevention and resources in place."