By Sarah Wages and Mary Katherine Langley
Ambient music pours through 21-year-old, Rachel Ramsbottom’s Bose speaker as she rhythmically dances with her hula-hoop in her backyard.
Since 2013, Ramsbottom has used this artistic activity from 15 minutes to two hours every day to cope with her depression and anxiety.
“If I’m consumed in my thoughts or situations, if something’s bothering me, I just hoop for a little bit,” Ramsbottom said. “It distracts me. Then I can re-approach the situation with a clear mind.”
Ramsbottom is one of 15 million American adults, or 6.7 percent of the population, diagnosed with depression. Millennials, born between the years of 1982 and 2004, are particularly at risk. In fact, 19 percent of Millennials, the highest of all generations, cope with depression, and the number is steadily on the rise.
A study from US Today reported that Millennials are the most stressed generation in the country and that 39 percent are more likely to report their stress level has increased within the past year. In 2015, the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness reported that 5 million-college students struggle with mental health issues.
Antidepressants are the most common form of therapy for those suffering with depression. A study done by SmartNews reported that 62 percent of antidepressant users use the medication for at least two years, and 14 percent stay medicated for more than 10 years. Other traditional therapies for depression include psychotherapy, talk therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy, an electric current that is used to release chemicals in the brain connecting communication with the nerves.
For Millennials, alternative therapies are particularly appealing, used alone or in conjunction with more traditional approaches. Although little medical research validates the efficacy of alternative therapies when treating moderate to severe depression, the practices are increasingly used with other treatments to help individuals cope with stress, a leading contributor to anxiety. For some practitioners, alternative therapies even ease physical pain.
The more popular alternative therapies, such as, yoga, hypnosis, and aromatherapy, rely heavily on relaxation for relief. These are also referred to as holistic activities that stimulate the mind and emotions.
Twenty-year-old Kaymen Holley,who is a sophomore at The University of Memphis, chooses her alternative therapy because she does not want to rely on a chemical substance to make herself feel better. “I hate having to rely on something to make me feel normal or make me feel like I have my stuff together, or that I can only function because I take a pill every day,” Holley said.
The reasons Millennials suffer more depression and anxiety than previous generations are complex. A technology-driven lifestyle can certainly play a part, experts agree. Smartphones became popular in the United States around 2010; social media also began to take off in the mid-2000s. For Millennials, who typically spend time every day on social media platforms, observing the successes and failures of peers can drive self-doubt and encourage anxiety, as well as use up time.
Some experts, however, see social media as helpful in treating anxiety and depression. Donna DiClement is a 51-year-old licensed social worker and the director of the Methodist Healthcare Employee Assistance Program that is partnered with the Dennis H. Jones Living Well Network. She said social media has helped some Millennials confront their depression and allowed others to see they are not alone in suffering.
“I believe that in this day and age they have an outlet they can turn to, to see they are not alone,” DiClementi said. “When I was that age, you were considered to have something wrong with you if you claimed to be depressed. You were the same as any other individual suffering with mental illness; no matter the difference in severity.”
Exercise also helps. In 2009, research reported in Harvard Health studied participants who considered themselves “distressed” during the previous 90-days. The study’s participants took two yoga classes a week. After the three months, 50 percent of individuals reported being less depressed, 30 percent reported to be less anxious and as many as 65 percent reported to have an overall improved self-being. Today, yoga is one of the most common forms of alternative therapies for individuals suffering with depression.
Rikki McElroy is a yoga instructor of over 20 years, and she advocates living a healthy and active lifestyle. She helps others learn the importance of being active every day.
“Yoga is beneficial in several ways. Mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” McElroy said. “It’s a great stress reliever. Any physical activity, getting your heart rate up, is going to help relieve stress.”
Brooke Dial, 21, practices yoga every day for about three hours and agreed that yoga calms the mind and strengthens the body. “Yoga brought me to a peaceful place,” Dial said. “It’s a spiritual time for me. It’s a peaceful time for me, both inside and out.”
Dial grew up with insecurities, searching for love and acceptance from others. Once she began practicing yoga, she found her strength inside her was the best way to cope with issues. “Being happy is a mindset,” Dial said. “It’s not from the outer appearance. It’s a soul searching experience, and yoga allowed me to find myself inner peace.”