young woman millennials struggles with mental health

Psst… Your Millennials are Depressed

October 15, 2018

The mental health of the next generation is increasingly fraught at work. What can you do to help?

Millennials, Generation Y, Echo Babies, the Boomerang Generation, iGen, Generation We, Generation Me, Generation  Next… the list goes on. Whatever you call them, the generation born between the early 80s and the year 2000 is starting to make a big impact in the workplace.

Coming from an era immersed in technology, globalization and instant communication, the expectations of millennials and their outlook on the workplace are different from preceding generations. A study published in 2000 by J.J. Arnett, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, suggests that this is a generational effect, not just an effect of age, and it transcends culture.

In the next five years, as most Boomers retire and leave the workforce, we expect to see a shift as more millennials take their place in the workforce. While millennials already form 23% of the Canadian workforce, by 2020 that number is estimated to increase to 50%. The better we understand this generation, the better we can inspire, challenge and retain these future leaders.

Appreciating the characteristics of millennials at work and how they connect to mental health may be critical to building a stronger work culture.

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Emerging adulthood is the life stage between 18-29 years. It is the transition to adulthood that is understood to be increasingly long and quite complex, and it has its own features and implications on the mental health of developing adults.

This stage is characterized by identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feelings of being “in-between” and feelings of possibility and optimism. These factors weigh heavily on younger employees and often lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

Understanding the challenges of this demographic is crucial to providing appropriate support for the generation now entering the workforce and preparing them to succeed in their careers.


According to the 2015 Sun Life Canadian Health Index, 31% of millennials report that they have experienced or are currently experiencing a mental health issue such as depression, anxiety and substance misuse. This is substantially higher when compared to the national average of 20%.

The findings align with a recent Conference Board of Canada report, Healthy Brains at Work: The Situation for Younger Workers, which noted the high incidence of mental health issues among young workers.

Researchers found that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were the most likely of four adult age groups to have experienced mood disorders (8%) or major depressive episodes (7%) within the past year.


While this research shows that younger Canadian workers are particularly vulnerable, mental health affects all generations in the workplace. Employers and employees would both do well to support mental health at work.

A healthy workplace is one that understands, appreciates and leverages the characteristics and strengths of every generation. With such depressing numbers, it may be time to consider your role at work and how you can support a workplace that fosters mental health for your millennials and others.

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Marie-Hélène Pelletier
Marie-Hélène Pelletier, PhD, is the Assistant Vice-President of Workplace Mental Health at Sun Life Financial.

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