Mental vs. Physical Health – A Generational Battle

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there couldn’t be a more relevant topic to discuss during our current climate. Based on a 2018 study by The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), almost 1 in 5 U.S. adults and 1 and 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced some type of mental illness in 2017, most commonly anxiety.

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the US since 1949, at which point the oldest Boomers (born between 1946-1964) were turning 3. Whether driven by life stage differences or changing cultural attitudes, younger and older consumers differ on the role mental health plays in their health and wellness, with younger generations putting more emphasis on mental health, particularly stress and anxiety.


Younger Generations Value Mental Health Over Physical Health

Our State of Our Health Study (SOOH) among U.S. consumers aged 13+ indicates that when asked to trade off between mental and physical health, younger generations are more likely to agree that mental health is the more important element. It isn’t surprising that younger generations are thus more likely to prioritize improving their mental health over other goals.

Millennials are also almost twice as likely as Boomers (47% versus 26% respectively) to include managing stress and anxiety as a key influencer of overall health. They’re also significantly more likely to have grown up in a household where mindfulness was present. A growing number of online/app based resources may also help younger consumers better connect with tools focused on improving mental health.

This data shouldn’t suggest that one approach is superior to another or that one generation is happier or more optimistic, just that the language of wellness changes based on one’s social and cultural environment and life stage. As such, the role mental health plays in consumers’ wellness is fluid across the U.S. population.

Source: Murphy Research State of Our Health (SOOH) data collected between Q3 2018 and Q1 2020. For more information on this study please click here

Health Priorities By Generation

The SOOH data from the Q1 2020 report highlights the overarching wellness objectives of each generation and the shift in balance between mental and physical health as consumers age.

Weekly Mental Health Practices

As expected, the onset of COVID-19 and the associated stay-at-home orders have continued to accelerate the importance of mental health related behaviors among younger nutrition- and fitness-engaged consumers in the U.S.

It will be interesting to see the impact of the 2020 Mental Health Awareness Month given its intersection with the early stages of COVID-19 lifestyle adaptations, but it is clear that mental health is becoming more integral to conversations around wellness among younger consumers.