Why are Millennials So Sick Physically and Mentally?


Most people equate chronic illnesses with the elderly, but a recent Harris Poll study reveals that 44% of millennials born between 1981-1988 have been diagnosed with at least one chronic health condition.

What’s really alarming is that 4 of the top 5 chronic health conditions (and 6 of the top 10) among millennials fall into the mental or behavioral health category, according to a study from Blue Cross Blue Shield. And the rates for these conditions are rising dramatically. That’s not even counting the increases so many people have experienced due to the pandemic.

It begs the question: What’s wrong with millennials?

What’s really alarming is that 4 of the top 5 chronic health conditions (and 6 of the top 10) among millennials fall into the mental or behavioral health category, according to a study from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Click To Tweet

Top 10 Conditions Among Older Millennials

Millennials include those born between the years 1981-1996, but the BCBS study focused on older millennials (ages 34-36 in 2017). The findings are disturbing and show that adults in the age range are struggling. Here are the top 10 chronic conditions among older millennials with the mental and behavioral issues highlighted in bold.

  1. Major depression
  2. Substance use disorder
  3. Alcohol use disorder
  4. Hypertension
  5. Hyperactivity
  6. Psychotic conditions*
  7. Crohn’s disease/ulcerative colitis
  8. High cholesterol
  9. Tobacco use disorder
  10. Type II diabetes

*Note that psychotic conditions included a wide variety of disorders, including schizoid, delusional, paranoid, dissociative, personality, hysteria, tics, sexual, gender, identity, food-related, somatoform, affective, childhood disintegrative, pervasive developmental, and more.

What were the two conditions that saw the biggest increases in prevalence from 2014 to 2017? Major depression (31% increase) and hyperactivity (29% increase). In a newer BCBS study from 2019 that tracked statistics from 2017-2018, the biggest spikes were seen in major depression (12% increase) and alcohol use disorder (7% increase).

What’s even more alarming is that millennials are experiencing all of these conditions at a higher rate compared to Gen Xers when they were the same age (34-36).

Millennials, Pandemic Bad Habits, and the Brain

According to the 2019 study by Blue Cross Blue Shield, millennials—all millennials, not just the older ones—are also some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with 92% saying COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health. Among millennials, the pandemic contributed to major increases in unhealthy behaviors, including:

  • 34% increase in alcohol consumption
  • 20% increase in smoking
  • 17% increase in vaping
  • 16% increase in non-medical drug use

At Amen Clinics and in Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, Your Brain Is Always Listening, these are referred to as “Bad Habit Dragons.” These inner dragons breathe fire on your emotional brain and fuel habits that don’t serve you.

Inside your brain, there is a constant dance between your prefrontal cortex (involved in focus, judgment, and impulse control), your amygdala (the part of your emotional brain that responds to threats), and your basal ganglia (where habits are shaped and stored). When the PFC is healthy and strong, it can help direct and supervise the addition of healthy habits. When it is weak, you are more easily influenced by untamed dragons, and your impulses can take over, causing many bad habits to form. Once formed, good or bad habits take the same amount of energy.

The rampant stress and anxiety of the pandemic weakened peoples’ PFCs and led to an increase in bad habits. This helps explain the rise in drinking, smoking, vaping, and recreational drug use during the pandemic.

The Link Between Mental Health and Physical Health

Millennials who have behavioral health conditions are also at greater risk of having chronic health conditions. They are 2.7 times more likely to have coronary artery disease, 2.1 times more likely to have diabetes, 1.9 times more likely to have Crohn’s disease/ulcerative colitis or hypertension, and 1.7 times more likely of having high cholesterol.

The mental health/physical health connection goes both ways. At Amen Clinics, we have found that your physical health greatly impacts your mental well-being. Problems with blood flow (such as hypertension), inflammation, head trauma, exposure to toxins, infections (such as Lyme disease or COVID-19), autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances, and diabesity (obesity and diabetes) all contribute to psychiatric problems. Learning to improve these areas of your life can enhance your mental health.

Depression, anxiety, aggression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. How do autoimune diseases contribute to psychiatric problems?
    Thank you 🙂

    Comment by Roxanne — June 11, 2021 @ 4:04 AM

  2. My children are 42yrs old and 38yrs old. My son is ADHD and struggles with impulse control, drug and alcohol abuse. My daughter us 38yrs old and struggling with depression and anxiety and alcohol abuse. I believe some of this is genetically predisposed. Their dad was alcoholic. Both are smart and creative. I have encouraged them over the years to seek medical attention and counseling, to no avail. It us heart breaking to watch them make bad choices and be their best selves. I have had to distance myself so I don’t become co-dependent and have it affect my mental and physical well being. I don’t have any answers for these young adults, but I can feel for the parents.

    Comment by Celia — June 11, 2021 @ 4:58 AM

  3. I see it all the time. It is so sad. I would suggest that the following generations are not doing much better, too. -Dr. Dale Goodman

    Comment by Dr. Dale Goodman — June 11, 2021 @ 5:25 AM

  4. So why is this happening to millennials in particular?

    Comment by Maya K — June 11, 2021 @ 5:54 AM

  5. These articles are very useful to me. My specialties are: Anxiety, Depression, and domestic violence. I am a marriage and family therapist. Thx Keep them coming.

    Comment by Mary C Dermody — June 11, 2021 @ 6:06 AM

  6. As a behavioral health therapist specializing in addiction, I think you guys do a great job and I am proud to be on your Referral List. All the best.

    Comment by Donald Diebold — June 11, 2021 @ 6:52 AM

  7. How can these conditions be prevented

    Comment by Hardip Kaur — June 11, 2021 @ 7:21 AM

  8. I am curious. Could the amount of vaccinations are now required to take be a factor? I have read studies that seemed to indicate those who have been vaccinated in comparison to those that aren’t have a higher incidence of a variety of health conditions? What do you think? Thank you.

    Comment by Leanne D Wylet — June 11, 2021 @ 5:49 PM

  9. This is something I was warned would happen when I was getting my Master’s degree in nutrition. The health of our nation continues to decline between all the stress, all the brokenness, and especially the way that we eat, we are just doing this to ourselves.
    As I used to say, you’re digging your grave with your fork. But it’s not just what we eat, it’s our lifestyles .

    Comment by Nancy Parlette — June 11, 2021 @ 5:54 PM

  10. This age group (I have millennial age daughters and “older” millennial son-in-law) are the first age group to experience the following; a 75% sedentary life style , from work life to more quote modern convinces in the home, steady diet of fast and microwaved food…..AND social media taking the place of face to face friendship .

    Additionally, agree with importance of faith or not, it also was beginning of a mass national drop rate of church attendance.

    These are issues that feed the body, brain, mind and spirit….or starve it. Seems the latter is happening for many.

    Now that the pandemic is slowing, most of the above can be changed to find balance and to heal.
    Turn off the phones, take walks, actually cook a meal at least 4 times a week, join an activity group and hopefully stop by a local church for at least 4 weeks to form an opinion of its belives teachings and human connections.

    Wishing you all
    Peace , Joy and Wellness.

    Comment by Wanda — June 12, 2021 @ 4:14 AM

  11. I wonder how much a decrease in religiosity, no attendance at some Church group (community), spiritual illness, play a role i n chronic disease. Moral relativism has replaced religion, where there is basis of security, meaning, etc.. Also, I have observed that most millennials are angered that as employees, they are not paid the same as their boss, regardless of their roles. I have observed a lack of work ethic, inability to sustain attention, in the workplace. Expectations seem to also be different than earlier generations. They seem unfulfilled, many times unhappy, addicted to net and cell phone social lives….mentally drifting with little effort. How damaging are these things to the brain?

    Comment by Kathleen OMeal — June 12, 2021 @ 4:36 AM

  12. I believe the childhood vaccines are interfering with the children’s primitive reflexes causing dysfunction in cognition and body movement. 1 out of 5 kids today are developmentally delayed.

    Comment by Mary Pulles Cavanaugh — June 12, 2021 @ 5:34 AM

  13. Thank you for this information. Unfortunately, I am not surprised by this. I am curious to see how children of millennial s will fare.

    Comment by Kimberly knoch — June 12, 2021 @ 5:38 AM

  14. I believe a lot of the increase in mental illness and a decline in decision making and impulse control stems from diet. Other countries have prohibited certain chemicals and additives to be allowed to be put in our food, but I believe the U.S. government is more concerned with pleasing big corporations than the health of its people. Addictive chemicals are put in our food so we will keep purchasing there products, which in turn makes them richer and more powerful.

    Comment by Cheryl Meyer — June 12, 2021 @ 5:49 AM

  15. I would be interested to know if the same group provided any insight into their life choices before 25. What activity didn’t allow for the foundation of the PFC to form fully? Was there early marijuana use? What were their ACE scores? Major trauma to brain or body. ? I think this is great information. I would just like for someone to delve deeper so we can do prevention vs treatment. Thank you for the information!

    Comment by Shannon Puckett — June 12, 2021 @ 6:28 AM

  16. Our 19 year young son struggles with all the addictions. He cannot hold onto a job. And couldn’t even pass one class at the community college. He suffers from low self-esteem, and was diagnosed with ADHD. I would love to have his brain scanned by Dr. Amen. Curious as to the cost?

    Comment by Virginia Wong — June 12, 2021 @ 7:04 AM

  17. From a nutritionist prospective, we aren’t supplying our bodies with the required nutrients. Too much stress , bad food choices, Lack of exercise and simple hydration , and let’s look at a imbalance in copper when assessing our minerals in a HTMA.

    Comment by Susan Kaiser — June 12, 2021 @ 7:18 AM

  18. This is disturbing information, of course, but makes absolute sense. Our society has gone down a rabbit hole of celebrating and monetizing narcissism, vulgarity and rudeness. Is it any wonder children who’ve come up in this environment are having mental and physical issues?

    Comment by Celine — June 12, 2021 @ 8:26 AM

  19. Love your work Dr. Amen.
    I believe mental health is being so extremely affected is because kids are feeling and seeing the impact of knowing something is feeling wrong…in their homes, in their schools, in society and the world as a whole. They are way more aware of wanting something different but society is still so far behind. Our moms and dads for the most part were not aware of the impact of their legacies on us and there is so much unintentional trauma caused. I believe it the answer lies in unearthing the traumas and healing from these. Break the cycle of generational wounds, they run deeper than most will admit or be able to see. We must heal the wounding of individuals, families, communities and our entire world. The energy is literally shifting on earth and we feel this inside. A life coach has helped me more than any doctor, psychologist or counselling. This is just my experience though but if you’ve tried all the avenues and have found no breakthrough I encourage you to find a life coach that you jive with. Much love to all!!

    Comment by Ardean — June 12, 2021 @ 9:15 AM

  20. Some other causative factors are chemicals in our environment and electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These should NOT be omitted.

    Comment by Wayne C — June 12, 2021 @ 11:08 AM

  21. #1 Cause: Modern wheat, which now accounts for over 80% of world wide wheat consumed. Heritage wheats cause less metabolic disease. Wheat’s addictive property triggers the need to drink alcohol. That’s why so many alcoholics never recover. Stop eating wheat and it is easier to quit. Not eating wheat permenently reduces prostate hypertrophy.
    #2 Cause: Lithium deficiency caused by drinking bottled water. Lithium (at 5 mg a day, not 1000 mg or more dose used to treat bipolar) reduces the uncontrolable urge to satisfy a need. Maybe a cause of the increase in mass shootings.
    #3 Cause: Potassium deficiency. Blood pressure is regulated by the Potassium to Sodium Ratio. Most Americans are eating less potassium than sodium. Increase dietary potassium and you impove the ratio. It can take a year or more to replenish the cellular potassium.

    Comment by Paul Mammen — June 12, 2021 @ 2:05 PM

  22. As someone who was around as a child when TV first got started…I’ve seen a lot of changes over time. I contrast the older TV shows vs the current ones…a vast difference probably related to the “breakdown” in health and wellness? Of course shows on TV are just one example of societal changes. I’m glad to be near the end phase of my life…I won’t get to see the more serious breakdown due to global warming and so forth coming to a planet near you….I don’t believe humans have a chance in hell of turning things around…as a group they are simply not that bright. I realize that things change over time and older people have issues adapting to it…but I think there is more to it…probably too much of a move away from a more natural way of living. You should dismiss this as “old fart” talk to protect what sanity you still have left…

    Comment by fred — June 13, 2021 @ 4:15 AM

  23. This is a Blue Cross Insurance statistic. Free health care gave access to medical and psychological doctors. Millennials embraced and promoted the Affordable Care Act policies. Considering the profit margins of walk-in clinics and healthcare offices advertising to attract these patients/customers with ACA insurance, it is obvious that the rise in diagnosis correlates to the flow of government funding.

    Comment by Hilary Funk — June 13, 2021 @ 7:05 AM

  24. Perhaps some of you educational types of people could figure a way to incorporate knowledge of this kind and how to prevent and/or overcome these maladies into the required learning curriculum of the high school system. Well, even if just a few got the message to help themselves overcome or be preventative in getting these fixable problems.

    Comment by Helen Campbell — June 13, 2021 @ 7:37 PM

  25. Hello Virginia, thank you for commenting. We’d be happy to reach out to you directly with more information regarding scheduling an appointment at one of our 9 clinics and help answer any questions you may have about cost, insurance, and financing options. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — June 14, 2021 @ 2:12 PM

  26. Disturbing statistics, though not surprising.

    Many relevant answers in the comments.

    Toxins. Toxins. Toxins. From the time of birth, in foods, agriculture, and the many RX drugs that children are taking at very young ages. The field of psychiatry has normalized taking antidepressants and ADHD drugs prior to doing any medical workup. Vitamins, minerals, etc. SSRIs, especially, can cause all of the illnesses mentioned by altering metabolism, disruptive the endocrine system, bone density, triggering autoimmune conditions, and, most importantly, worsening the long term course of depression (Whitaker, R, etal). They also can cause alcohol cravings in non drinkers. Almost every mass shooter was on or recently withdrawn from an SSRI, including the Columbine shooters (Ann Blake Tracy, etal).

    Just a few thoughts.
    My heart goes out to all parents and the kids so greatly affected.

    Comment by Barbara — June 21, 2021 @ 12:28 PM

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