Millennials are more vocal about mental health issues than older generations. As the stigma diminishes surrounding these internal struggles, we can better understand just how common these problems are. According to a study released last week, done by the Stanford University Center on Poverty and Inequality, death rates have risen among millennials. Tragically, researchers point to an increase of opioid overdoses in young adults as well as increased suicide rates.

These grim statistics shed light on what Stanford University calls the millennial "canaries in the coalmine" effect. David Grusky, a sociologist associated with the study, explains that “Millennials are the first generation to experience in a full-throttled way the social and economic problems of our time. We can think of them as canaries in the coalmine who reveal just how toxic those problems are.”

Researchers Mark Dugan and Jackie Li found that between 2008 and 2016 death rates increased more than 20 percent in the millennial generation. The highest spike was 27 percent seen in non-Hispanic whites ages 20 to 34.

The correlation between mental illness and opioid addiction is not news to those who are affected by this crisis. In fact, many categorize opioid addiction as a substance use disorder which goes hand in hand with mental health disorders. According to the advocates at Mental Health First Aid, “more than 40 percent of people who live with addiction also have another mental challenge of some kind.” Co-occurring disorders pose a greater risk for these issues to turn lethal.

Millennials are often an overlooked demographic affected by the opioid epidemic. According to a Harvard public opinion poll, over 12 percent of millennials have been directly affected by the opioid crisis, or know someone who has been. As I have written before, opioids have become a part of pop culture and have left many young adults desensitized to their devastating effects. Additionally, millennials obtain more legal prescriptions for these pills at younger ages. Together, these factors have quietly chipped away at the millennial generation as the Stanford University study found.

IWF has expertly laid out a multi-pronged approach to combat the crisis:

  • President Trump’s Commission on the Opioid Crisis will study the epidemic and make legislative recommendations

  • Individual health care providers should continue to get away from standardized prescriptions for opioids

  • Education and awareness about the addictive nature of these substances should be given at the time of treatment

  • Insurers should cover non-opioid pain treatments

When prescribed correctly and consumed safely, opioids are a useful tool for those in pain. However, it is undeniable that millennials need to include the role addiction plays in the larger conversation about the poor mental health of our generation. In response to the Stanford University study, the Director of the CDC Robert Redfield, put it plainly: “These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often.”