The millennial generation is unlike any other generation before them. Born between 1981 and 1996, they’ve been shaped by the Internet and a constant rise of new technology, an always-on mobile culture, the great recession, and a sharp upsurge in economic and health-related stressors.
This generation is now the largest contributor to the U.S. labor market, but a documented decline in their physical and psychological health could have detrimental effects on their productivity and ability to work in the future. As millennials are reaching their prime working and earning years, they are also facing an increase in major depression, substance abuse, hyperactivity disorders, and other behavioral health concerns that could lead to dire economic consequences down the line without intervention and innovation today.
A recent study from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association looked closely at the decline in millennial health as they face more economic and health-related uncertainty. The report, “The Economic Consequences of Millennial Health,” studied millennial health patterns and future impacts on healthcare costs and economic activity.
What is surfacing is an alarming trend in millennial health and the healthcare industry’s ability (or inability) to handle the incoming storm. Millennials are seeing their health decline faster than Gen X’ers as they age. They’re getting sicker earlier and their long-term health issues will have far-reaching implications on a healthcare system in flux.
Particularly alarming is the millennial decline in mental health described in the report: “Between 2014 and 2017 alone, the prevalence of major depression and hyperactivity among millennials was up roughly 30%. What’s more, according to the CDC, accidental deaths, which include overdoses, and suicides were the cause of 60% of all 25-29-year-old deaths in 2017. A generation before, in 2002, those two causes accounted for less than half of all deaths in the same age cohort.” And it’s not just the BCBSA reporting these findings — a number of studies have found that stress about finances is a leading cause of increased depression, alcohol use, and substance abuse among millennials. (Addiction Center)
This faster decline in millennial physical and mental health could result in a greater need for healthcare services at higher costs than previous generations, with troublesome economic implications. It’s a vicious cycle of poor health causing financial instability which leads to more stress and a higher risk of behavioral health issues.
How are behavioral health providers expected to meet the demands of millennials in light of their declining health and economic insecurity?
It Starts in the Physician Office…
U.S. healthcare’s slow but steady progress toward value-based care models favors behavioral health integration with primary care for its beneficial effect on costs and outcomes, especially for chronic conditions. PCPs are increasingly incentivized to incorporate behavioral health assessment and monitoring as part of a patient’s total health picture. They must be equipped with the right tools to seamlessly identify, triage, and refer patients with behavioral health needs — especially those at risk of suicide or substance abuse. But integrating care isn’t the only challenge for providers hoping to stem the tide of millennial health — attracting and retaining the “Amazon generation” requires an overhaul of the patient experience to focus on convenience, affordability, and communication.
…and Continues in Behavioral Care
Timely access to behavioral health providers is an ongoing issue throughout the U.S. While mental health parity laws will likely lead to increased provider reimbursement (and therefore an increase in providers), change is slow and millennials’ health decline isn’t going to wait for an overhaul of the system. Increasing patient volume isn’t the only way behavioral providers can positively affect the millennial health trend, though. Measurement-based care — the continuous monitoring and measuring of patient progress — is underutilized in behavioral settings but is proven to lead to faster recovery, better matching of patients to providers, and improved outcomes. If patients are treated successfully, new patients can be prioritized and seen more quickly.
Millennials are a generation with unique healthcare needs, including a startling increase in behavioral health issues that could have a tremendous impact on the already-burdened healthcare industry. Providers across the care continuum will need to step away from the business-as-usual approach and address millennial behavioral health needs in a patient-centric, holistic way.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. The behavioral health crisis of this generation may be only now emerging with more serious implications on the industry and the economy yet to be seen. Failure to properly integrate the mental healthcare of millennials — in a way that attracts and engages them — will have costly consequences.