The Great (Millennial) Depression

If you are depressed or some, possibly most, of your friends about the same age are depressed too, then it is highly likely that you are a Millennial. Yes, you belong to the infamous “ME ME ME” generation that is too obsessed to look beyond the self (at least that is what the magazines tell us). Millennials are supposedly narcissistic and egoistic. And yes, of course, they are sad, deeply sad.

According to the WHO, about 300 million people around the world are affected by depression. Nearly 800,000 people commit suicide every year. Suicide is second on the list of leading causes of deaths in 15 to 29 year-olds today. In spite of this, only 1 in every 5 depressed people receives treatment consistent with modern practices.

Numerous TV series and films have been made, aimed at tackling this. Their failure, however, has been appalling. Season 1 of the TV series 13 Reasons Why features a series of tapes left behind by a girl who commits suicide while in high school. In these tapes, she explains the 13 reasons behind her drastic step. No wonder this series became very popular; it was not just relatable to the very core but the drama of listening to a dead girl’s tapes, explaining why she committed suicide, was scintillating. Besides the wave of awareness, the series left behind one adverse impact. The number of suicides increased by almost a third, instead of going down, ever since the series aired. Within three weeks of being aired, searches about suicides increased by a staggering 20%. Many blame it on the very graphic depiction of how Hannah Baker, the protagonist, took her life by slitting her wrists at the very end of the series. This is not something that audiences have witnessed before on television, certainly not in programmes aimed at teenagers. The popularity of the series earned it two more seasons in the years that followed. However, amidst all the concerns, Netflix altered the 3-minute sequence, although convinced that the series had nothing to do with the increase in suicide rates in the USA, over 2 years after its initial release.

There has, however, been a decline in the stigma surrounding mental health. People do seek to talk about and actively treat depression and other mental health problems. Various online portals and helplines are active to give help to those seeking it. Earlier, they failed to recognise depression as a disease that needed treatment. Instead, they saw it as inadequacy or incompetence. Certain old asylums are often considered to be haunted because of the unspoken torture within its walls in the past. Hundreds have died in various such locations around the world, after being shunned by society for being mentally ill. Shock therapy, invented in the Italy of the 1930s, was commonly practiced to treat ‘madness’. Many, even today, believe in the effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy, although it has been repeatedly tagged as medical abuse by different organisations.

Millennials are convinced that they are but doomed. And this conviction comes from a place of hyperawareness. There is near-constant exposure to news of thousands being beheaded in the name of religion or people committing suicide by bringing down an entire airbus full of people along with themselves. Or, maybe, that people are capable of democratically electing a person who doesn’t believe that Global Warming, which, by the way, can facilitate the extinction of humanity, is real, as the Leader of the Free World. We are always talking and making memes about Trump’s tweets, the melting ice caps or India’s water crisis. We see the expendability of human life in the deaths of our beloved Cameron Boyce, Stan Lee, Avicii, Stephen Hawking, Dolores O’Riordan, David Cassidy, Chester Bennington, Bill Paxton, Carrie Fisher, Harper Lee, and Alan Rickman. In fact, most Millennials do not even conform to the term ‘Millennial’, tagging it as overly optimistic.

Social media and its ultra-fast nature have made it clear to the Millennials that humans are irrevocable. Millennials are aware that the Zodiac Killer was never caught, MH-370 was never found and that France experienced its highest ever temperature in recorded history, earlier this year. They are aware of students shooting down hundreds in schools, abortion being banned and trees being cut. We know how this is affecting us all as a species and yet, there seems to be nothing that we can do about it. The news of bad incidents looms over us every day along with the knowledge that it can happen to any of us too. The incredibly talented and very dead singer Kurt Cobain did tell us, “Just because you are paranoid, does not mean they are not after you.” Millennials are the first generation to grow up in an era of both overwhelming awareness and paralysing feeling of our incapability to be able to solve them.

We know what is expected of us, the perfect job and the perfect partner, and we are aware of how it is just a pipe dream. They tell us it is social media reinforcements of everyone else living the perfect life that is making our generation depressed. That we are trying to reach for standards we will never attain. But I think there is more to the Great Millennial Depression than just that.

Let’s assume that you are Einstein-smart, devilishly beautiful and incredibly funny. Are you among the top 10 something? If you are not, well then, you do not matter. Let us assume that you are among the world’s top 10 most hilarious people. Will you hold the position forever? What happens next year? What if you face a decade-long writer’s block and go bankrupt? Perhaps you succeed and go on a cruise with your soulmate and drown in your bathtub? We all will die one day and there will be nothing left of us in a few decades. No one will remember our sacrifices, pain, hard work or the embarrassing moments that we have shared with our crushes. The question is, are we important? Are our actions significant? Why is it that humans have had the privilege to even exist?

People have asked these for long and today, Millennials are convinced that nothing has an explanation. There is nowhere a certain someone is meant to be or something they are meant to do. They just exist. The stars were not specially created to dazzle us. Neither are we at the centre of the solar system, the universe or Creation in general. Things just exist.

If you think I am right, well then, congratulations, you are a nihilist. It is highly likely that you are a Millennial too. Turns out, the term nihilism has a very simple meaning. It is the rejection of all religious and moral principles. Nihilists believe that life has absolutely no meaning and yet humans keep seeking a way to give it some meaning, some purpose, but eventually die and are forgotten. In Tyler Durden’s immortal words: “We are the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… Our Great Depression is our Lives.” Nihilism is hot today. The great success of BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Hazel’s response to Augustus’ confession of the fear of oblivion and so on bear testimony to this very fact.

The fact that depression and the popularity of nihilistic ideas have increased exponentially about the same time makes me wonder if they share some sort of a symbiotic relationship. If someone is depressed, the consolation that nothing really matters must help, surely? In fact, Optimistic Nihilism emphasises the notion that no one will ever remember one’s ill actions or embarrassing moments. Not all people who are depressed believe in nihilism though. But all nihilists may to some extent be sad. Everything productive that people do today is because they believe that it has meaning and life has a purpose. Nihilists dismiss this idea as nonsense. To them nothing has meaning and thus, there is no use doing anything. And the depressed do feel this way. Besides, I am sure you might have noticed the surge of suicidal and nihilistic memes’ pages on Facebook.

Nihilists do not care about anything because nothing makes sense or has any significance. And thus, nothing can make them sad. Embarrassing moments do not matter and so there is no need to overthink them. Mistakes and bad deeds do not matter and so, they can move on and do something better. Of course, life has no meaning. But we can try to give it one or at least try and be happy for the little time that we have on our hands.

Nihilism, however, contrary to popular opinion, is not the lack of hope. Life has no meaning. But, that does not mean that you cannot give it some purpose. Moreover, your failures do not count in anyone’s book and so, one should not be held back by them. Whether or not nihilism has been helping the depressed generation is up for debate. But, then again, there is no point in arguing. Alan Moore in Watchmen did very accurately say- “Why do we argue? Life is so fragile, a successful virus clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.”

It is a generation trapped in the growing realisation that they must face and solve the environmental, social and political crises of the day while lodged in the belief that nothing really matters. The same thing that causes our depression is also the source of our respite; how little it all matters.


Oindrila Ghosh

I am a student of Chemical Engineering at BITS Pilani and an Egyptology enthusiast, who loves reading about cold cases, creation and everything else that will probably never benefit me in my future career.

The Pangean does not condemn or condone any of the views of its contributors. It only gives them the space to think and write without hindrance.