What kills millennials?

People don't die young very often. But when they do, these are the most common reasons why

28th March 2019

Fun fact: everyone you know and love will one day die, as will you.

It’s basically life’s only inevitability. However young, thriving and (somewhat) healthy you might be, death is still going to happen to you. We are not invincible. In fact, the millennial lifestyle, often overfilled with stress, binge-drinking and the toxicity of social media, can be lethal.

We looked into the top five leading causes of death for 20-34 year olds according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), just in case you were feeling particularly morbid today.


Tragically, the number one leading cause of death among millennials is suicide. The ONS found of the women aged 20-34 who died, 14.9% was through inflicting harm on themselves and this rate is even higher among men, reaching 23.7%. Millennial mental health is well known to be particularly poor, with many young adults suffering from depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, a key reason for this mental instability is the plague of perfectionism. Entering into an increasingly competitive job market, young adults hold themselves to incredibly high standards, working relentless late nights and through the weekend to make a good impression and be the best they can be. Understandably, this can easily lead to millennials becoming overwhelmed and overworked, with undue stress and mental health struggles quickly arising as they strive to be the perfect employee.

The problem is only worsened by the toxic influence of social media that has become a part of our daily lives. With post after post of flawless bodies, idyllic holidays and extravagant celebrity lifestyles, it’s hard not to feel inadequate scrolling through Instagram. Social media fuels disillusionment and dissatisfaction with our lives. Sadly, when the pressure to excel at work and lead a picture-perfect lifestyle in-between becomes too much, some millennials see suicide as the only way out.

If you are troubled by suicidal thoughts, call Samaritans for free at any time by phone on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

Accidental poisoning

Following suicide, the second most common cause of millennial deaths is accidental poisoning, causing with 15.6% of deaths in young men and 9.5% in young women. While accidental poisoning might not immediately strike you as a millennial affliction — more common among infants swallowing dangerous household substances than young adults — fatal poisoning from unintentional drug overdoses is prevalent among millennials.

The World Health Organisation says overdoses of illegal opioids are a particular problem. “Due to their effect on the part of the brain which regulates breathing, opioids in high doses can cause respiratory depression and death.”

Opioids might make you feel much calmer, but in large quantities, they can bring on heavy sedation that is almost impossible to wake up from.

Accidental poisoning in millennials, however, is not limited to drugs. Food poisoning can also be unexpectedly deadly. You might recall a viral video from January, in which a doctor explains a 2008 case where a 20-year-old boy identified only as AJ died in his sleep after eating five-day-old pasta. Analysis of the food and AJ’s body found the bacteria Bacillus cerus had caused his liver to shut down, and he subsequently died. Of course, millennials don’t take as much time to prepare fresh food as our Bomber counterparts because we’re too busy working.

Transport accidents

In men aged 20-34, the third highest cause of death is land-transport accidents at 9.7%. Reckless driving greatly increases the risk of fatal accidents, and according to data from the DVLA, millennials are the biggest dangers on the road. The data shows drivers aged 34 and under caused 58.14% of dangerous driving offences in the UK in the last 18 months, which can often involve being dangerously distracted by mobile phones.

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It’s a stereotype but there’s truth in it: aside from the fact that there are younger more younger drivers and they have less road experience, as a generation, millennials are phone-addicted. Phone addiction is a very real psychological condition that — you guessed it — is also bad for your mental health. It’s always tempting to reply to a text or check Twitter notifications while driving, especially in long, boring queues of traffic. However, phones can be a deadly distraction, as deadly as being drunk. Even a quick glance might make the difference between seeing an unexpected hazard and not seeing one, which can cause road accidents with fatal consequences.

Liver disease

It’s a well-known fact that alcohol isn’t good for your liver, but it’s also a well-known fact that alcohol can be fun. Millennials are particularly fond of a drink or twelve. Given the binge drinking culture that surrounds students and young adults in the UK, it is perhaps unsurprising that liver disease makes it into the top five millennial killers. While as a demographic we’re slowly going off the booze, the oldest millennial is 36, meaning they have legally been able to drink for half their life. We may be learning, but in some cases, the damage has already been done.

Our youthful binging has resulted in more and more cases of cirrhosis in young adults, where the liver tissue becomes scarred by long-term damage. Cirrhosis, if left untreated, can lead to liver failure and then death. What is most troubling about young deaths from liver disease is that they are almost always preventable. Drinking less will put less strain on the liver, which as one of the most resilient organs in the body, is able to regenerate healthy tissue to replace tissue damaged by alcohol in the past. With the youngest millennials drinking less than the veterans, liver disease might drop off the list in the upcoming years.

Breast cancer

The possibility of getting cancer in your twenties and thirties might never even cross your mind. However, breast cancer is actually one of the top five killers of millennial women according to the ONS. This unexpected trend might be explained by the fact that women are now having children later in life. Based on research into the disease, the National Health Service (NHS) suggests having children and breastfeeding give some protection from breast cancer. The younger a woman is when she has her first pregnancy, and the more pregnancies she has, further decreases this risk.

However, unlike previous generations where women looked to settle down and start families in their twenties, millennial women tend to focus more on their careers first, planning to start their families later in life. Consequently, young women often lack the natural protection from breast cancer that having children can provide.

Responding to the ONS figures, Carolyn Rogers from Breast Cancer Care said: “It’s important to remember that breast cancer in young women is very rare, with just 4% of all cases in the UK diagnosed in women under 39. However, the take-home message from this data is that, whatever your age, getting to know your breasts is crucial.”

If you do spot something unusual — though chances are it won’t be cancer — get it checked by your GP. Anyone with questions about breast awareness can call Breast Cancer Care on 0808 800 6000.

28th March 2019