A friend posted on facebook this week something that I cannot stop thinking about. “I wonder why anxiety and depression seem to be so present in millennials. Or if it’s just millennials are more open about it…” I’ve wondered the same thing about the increased prevalence (or seemingly increased prevalence) of childhood allergies and developmental disorders. Here are a few of my theories on each.
I’m in several mom groups on social media. One for local moms that has five offshoots for various topics, one for veterinarian moms, and even one for Christian veterinarian moms. Something that I see mentioned a lot are allergy posts. What snacks would mamas of allergy-prone kids want brought to school for the holiday party? When do you introduce this food or that food to a baby safely and what to do if it incites a reaction? Tips for elimination diets for nursing mamas to help rule out allergies for their infants. What restaurants accommodate allergies the best and which ones are the worst? Lunch ideas for littles who go to daycares that are allergen free. Requests for allergen-free cakes for birthday parties. Does this rash look like an allergic reaction to this new food we introduced yesterday? And the worst, to me, is how to convince family members that a child’s allergy is actually life-threatening and not just a fad diet the parents imposed?
Seeing all these posts and the variety of answers begs the question: are allergies more common today than they were in previous generations? I know my preschool class did not have a list of foods we weren’t allowed to bring in our lunch boxes. Many posters even comment on how they don’t remember a single kid from their childhood with a peanut or egg allergy in their classes in school. But now I am sure every mama knows or has a kid with at least a mild food allergy.
I think the answer is two-fold. I think partially we have improved medicine, which leads to better and more precise diagnostics of things like food allergies. One of my best friends grew up eating apples almost every day of her life, and always had an itchy throat afterward, but no doctor ever addressed it. As an adult she did an allergy test and found out, surprise surprise, she’s allergic to apples (among other things). Kids have a weird rash or itchy eyes or say their throat hurts after eating something? Doctors look for food allergies sooner, and are vigilant in testing for related or other allergies. The other factor, I think, is that new parent education and social media interactions help educate parents on what certain allergies look like, when and how to introduce potentially-risky foods, and more. If a mama in Wyoming in one of my groups has a kid with a severe chicken allergy and posts about it, I see it in passing one day, and then a few days later Punkadoodle shows similar symptoms, I can reference back to that post and go to the doctor with a specific item to test for, in addition to whatever she or he also wants to test. It may be these two things are saving lives, and kids that would have died from life-threatening allergies in past generations are now successfully avoiding those allergens and thriving.
Developmental (Social, Learning, Conduct, and Behavior) Disorders
Again, I see a lot of posts about how childhood developmental disorder diagnoses are on the rise. Autism being diagnosed in 2 year olds, ADHD prescriptions for more and more kids in elementary school, sensory processing disorder affecting sibling sets, and so on. Are these really more common, or is medicine advancing to diagnose these more accurately, efficiently, and expediently in patients who display symptoms as young children? I don’t know the answer for sure, but I do know lots of mamas are so grateful for an early diagnosis because their children are in occupational or physical or medical therapy sooner and the family and child are, again, thriving. All thanks to having an answer to their questions about their child’s development. If medical advances and parental awareness are in cahoots to improve this arena, also, then let’s keep researching and sharing!
Mental Disorders in Adults (Specifically, Millenials)
As a reluctant millenial, I am almost offended by this question. (How millenial of me…) Why do people assume that other people are faking anxiety or depression or PTSD or bipolar disorder or OCD or ADHD? Are people faking these things? Why would anyone fake one of these? Or are we just more self aware of an imbalance in our own brain chemistry? Are millenials or other adults with these diagnoses more vocal about them thanks to social media, so the numbers aren’t actually bigger or more prevalent? Or is it truly on the rise in our “snowflake generation” because we all want to be seen as fragile and special and needy and worthy of kid gloves?
I can’t speak for every millenial, but I can speak for myself. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety, all due to a mix of circumstances and hormone fluxes leading to brain chemistry imbalances. I am generally a very self-aware person, and can usually pick up when something isn’t right. I started having panic attacks in undergrad and after the 3rd one I started looking for a therapist. I have been seeing that same Christian therapist for over 8 years now. She helped me with my anxiety and PTSD then, and then through vet school, and then new motherhood, and now the depression that set in after the last year’s worth of compounding traumatic events. She has been a lifeline for me- giving me tools to cope with attacks, pointing to evidence-based research on brain chemistry alterations after trauma, suggesting books and resources to help me learn about myself and how to process through things, and more. She has been such a monumental part of my healing and recovery and day-to-day life skill-equipping. As such, I will proclaim the benefits of therapy from every rooftop and platform I have access to do so.
I feel very strongly that everyone could benefit from therapy. It helps us uncover our motives, discern our thought and decision patterns, and teaches us how to process information and trauma and experiences. A good therapist will probe and ask hard questions and give constructive feedback, and help you learn how to move forward instead of staying where you are or moving back. A great therapist will do all that and also give you hard truths and action steps and tell you things you don’t want to hear about yourself but need to know.
In the 8 years that I’ve been in therapy, I have definitely shed some lies that I have believed about myself, found healing and restoration for past hurts, garnered new coping skills and processing methods to move through low patches, and become a better version of myself. And I am pretty candid about seeing a therapist, because I think everyone could use those benefits. In the last year four different people have told me that they started seeing a therapist because I talked about how much I valued mine. Four people are working towards healing and growth, because I wasn’t too proud to share that therapy has changed my life for the better. That’s why I’m so frank about therapy and my own mental health– I want others to have a similar experience, and to destigmatize therapy and mental health issues. Are other millenials forthcoming with their own struggles and triumphs for the same reason? I don’t know, but just like a mama sharing about her journey with childhood allergies in order to hopefully help one other mama and child, I wanted my story to be heard enough to help even one other person.
Why would I spend the rest of my days unhappy?/ Why would I spend the rest of this year alone?/ When I can go therapy, when I can go therapy/ When I can go therapy, two times a day -Mary J Blige
Grace and Peace,