New Atheists blogs love to trumpet the fact that millennials are the most secular generation. Apparently, this is supposed to mean that our culture will naturally become more secular, giving hope that eventually some sort of atheistic utopia is around the corner.
Yet the same New Atheist blogs don’t like to mention other concerning aspects of the millennials. For example, as I playfully noted earlier, millennials also have the distinction of being the generation that shows the greatest hostility toward free speech.
Another concerning aspect of the millennials is that they seem much more susceptible to mental illness:
Armstrong is one of more than 5 million college students struggling with mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the country’s largest grassroots mental health organization. Rates of anxiety and depression in particular have skyrocketed in what many are calling a crisis of mental health on college campuses.
Like Armstrong, more students than ever come to college on medication or in treatment for mental health problems, according to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2015. More than 25 percent of college students have a diagnosable mental illness and have been treated in the past year, according to NAMI.
At MU, 61 percent of 1,010 college students who responded to an American College Health Association assessment in fall 2014 reported feeling overwhelming anxiety within the last year. And 35.5 percent said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”
Mental health problems don’t just start in college. According to Psychology Today, “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”
You have to wonder is the millennial’s rejection of God and religion is connected to their increased levels of anxiety and depression. After all, there are many studies that have shown religion to have a positive impact on well-being. For example, consider one such study from 1994:
Social science research examining the relationship between religion and health has produced equivocal results, although evidence from more recent studies points toward a link between inward or intrinsic religion and both mental and physical well-being. This study offers a further examination of this emergent association by comparing the health status of two specific respondent groups drawn from a population of Canadian university students. The first consists of members of a range of campus Christian faith groups, and the second is a comparison or nonaffiliated group chosen from the student body at large. The results of the study reveal a positive relationship between faith group involvement and various aspects of health status, and thus support previous positive findings.
Or a more recent one from 2010:
The purpose of this study was to determine if the frequently reported positive association between Intrinsic Religious Motivation (IRM) and Subjective Well-being (SWB) is explicable in terms of a more general intrinsic orientation to life that involves secular as well as religious domains. Measures of 3 distinct domains of intrinsic orientation (work, leisure, and religion) were administered to 161 college students along with 4 measures of SWB: satisfaction with life, purpose in life, self-efficacy, and negative affect. Four multiple regressions were performed, 1 to predict each measure of SWB, with the 3 intrinsic orientation scales, gender, and social desirability as the predictors in each regression. Intrinsic religiousness emerged as an independent predictor of satisfaction with life, purpose in life, and self-efficacy. Intrinsic religiousness appears to make a unique contribution to the prediction of SWB.
In fact, if you go back to the Vox article (second link), I noticed this:
Twenge headed another study that examined the results of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory — a mental health survey given to college students since 1938 and high school students since 1951. She noticed that many students have shifted focus from intrinsic to extrinsic goals. In other words, students have gradually begun valuing material awards and outside approval over self-improvement or fulfillment. In the 1960s and 1970s, most college freshmen valued “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” over “being well off financially.” Today, that exact opposite is true.
It’s easy to see how a focus on religion would be strongly tied to “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” while “being well off financially” is a secular priority.
I haven’t given this topic a lot of consideration, but the correlation between secularism and mental illness does seem worthy of further examination. What’s more, does the social justice perspective represent a substitute for religion and functions as a way for millennials to find ” a meaningful philosophy of life?” And if so, does this social justice “religion” actually help or make things worse?