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Suffering economy causes stress in college graduates

Shilad Sen

For generations kids have been told that if they work hard in school, they’ll get a good job. But this doesn’t seem to be so simple for the millennial generation, as there just aren’t enough jobs in the current economy to go around.

Work-related worry is impacting the mental health of this demographic, with studies revealing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Vinita Mehtadiscusses millennial work stress with us this week on “Take Care.” Mehta is a licensed clinical psychologist, journalist, and media expert. Her specialties include depression, anxiety, life transitions, relationship issues, and building health and resilience. Mehta writes for Psychology Todayand is the former science editor of the acclaimed PBS special This Emotional Life. 

Themillennial generation is defined as those currently in their 20s and mid-30s, according to Mehta.

“There was a statistic that came out, that a few decades ago, within the first year of college graduation 90 percent of college graduates were employed,” Mehta said. “That number in 2011 dropped to 70 percent.”

Mehta also recognizes that this 70 percent may not even be a job in a person’s field. Much of the stress the millennial generation faces may stem from the idea of growing up believing the American dream, only to graduate in an economy where that’s no longer the case, says Mehta.

On top of not getting a job, the millennial generation is also faced with tremendous debt from the college education they were told they needed to land a good job, says Mehta. It can be stress on top of stress -- you might even feel stress just reading about this.

“I think just the sheer cost of college has given young people a lot of pause. You’ll see people…accepting admission from a university, but deferring it by a year to go to a community college…and get the cheaper cost of college,” Mehta said. “I don’t think that was a consideration even 20 years ago.”

Even if a millennial graduate lands a job after college, there are still no guarantees. Mehta says many people feel stress and anxiety to keep a job, because nothing seems to be long term anymore.

“If you’re among the lucky to get a job, and get one that you like, then it’s a matter of keeping it,” Mehta said. “[There’s the] feeling that one misstep could lead to the end of a job. It’s no wonder you have a generation that’s extremely anxious about their work and whether they’ll be able to make it.”

With this concern, Mehta says she sees a lot of patients that deal with panic attacks and disproportionate reactions to situations. In these cases, she says the best thing to do is concentrate on breathing and recall a happy memory. These two things will help release good hormones and help the body overcome the fight or flight instinct it experiences during panic attacks and disproportionate reactions, according to Mehta.

Along with breathing and recalling good memories, Mehta says staying connected in the community also has a positive impact. This can assure millennials they’re not alone, and there are others that understand what they’re going through.

Of course the ultimate solution to this problem would be job growth and the ability to give people jobs that are worthy of their background, says Mehta. But until then, she advises the above mentioned coping mechanisms and seeking out therapy.