Mary Wakefield Mary Wakefield

What’s to blame for a generation’s desperation?

Millennials’ misery is real – but the explanations usually given seem half-true at best

Youth is wasted on the young, for the most part, and thank God for that. There’s nothing grislier than a teenage girl aware of her hypnotic effect on men, or a youngster who begins his important thoughts: ‘As a young person, I…’ These days, though, it’s not youth that’s wasted on the young so much as life, which is an altogether more troubling problem.

Over the last year or so, I’d say a good third of the British kids I’ve met, from 15 to 25, have been suffering in some way from anxiety or depression. Often it’s obvious: severe anorexia; forearms calibrated with razor marks. The child says a wan hello, then slinks off to re-submerge in social media. The adults discuss the problem sotto voce. They’re game, modern mums, willing to face mental illness, but they’re baffled too: what’s up with these kids? They’re the best-fed, best–educated, luckiest humans that have ever been. They’re likely to be the longest-lived too, though ironically the least keen on life.

Rachael Dove, a 25-year-old fashion journalist, wrote a moving, exasperating piece in the Telegraph last year calling this the Age of Desperation. Over half of her friends were anxious, she said, some severely and debilitatingly. The lucky few have been referred to therapists, but there’s a year-long wait for talking cures on the NHS. The others were taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like citalopram, which by all accounts is the new Prozac.

Last week came the depressing news that antidepressant use is at an all-time high in England, and I remembered Rachael and her friends. Last year, 61 million prescriptions were filled for antidepressants, including citalopram. In the last decade, in other words, since Generation Y hit puberty, antidepressant use has doubled.

This won’t come as a total surprise to those of us with a weather eye on Gen Y.

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