10/23/2014 04:26 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

Mental Health and The Whiny Generation

Millennials: We're a generation celebrated for our diversity, interest in social change and tech savvy, while simultaneously being lamented for our narcissism, sense of entitlement and propensity for living with our parents.

For every stride we've made, there is a criticism awaiting us from the previous generation. It's a rite of passage and if you don't believe me talk to your parents who may have been dubbed "hippies" or "yuppies," or your grandparents who grew up "latchkey kids." They all took their share of skepticism from their parents' generation and now it's our turn.

While I can accept that some of their critiques have solid foundations -- I love selfies and have now switched most of my newspaper and magazine subscriptions over to my iPad -- I won't stand by and watch an entire generation be labeled "whiny."

Though it seems innocent enough, the "w-word" has serious implications. It condescends emotional and physical distress that is very real. It shames those with debilitating problems for speaking up. It even inadvertently trivializes mental illness. For every millennial that is dubbed whiny, there are probably two more struggling with mental distress who never seek help, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Like my friend Sheena, who flung herself from a nine story parking deck to end her battle with her mind. She sought help, but between chemical imbalance, the demands of schoolwork and the anxiety that accompanies major life decisions (college, career path, etc.), it wasn't enough.

In 2010, there were 38,364 suicides in the United States alone -- approximately 105 each day. It is the third leading cause of death for those age 15-24 and the second leading cause of death for those age 25-34, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 19.6 percent of young adults (age 18-25) suffered from some degree of mental illness, with 8.9 percent of the age group reporting at least one major depressive episode within a year of the study.

That's not to say the days of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps are long gone. Many millennials continue to function socially, academically and professionally without the help of a therapist or pharmaceuticals. The cultural shift lies in the fact that we are the generation who has at least begun to destigmatize those who do need such help.

Call it the naiveté of youth, but I believe there is no shame in asking for help when you really need it.

Critics are quick to argue that doctors may now be over-diagnosing mental ailments, especially in children. Sure, sadness about a breakup does not necessarily constitute depression and nervousness about a big presentation at work doesn't always stem from an anxiety disorder. Over-diagnosis is a problem, but an undiagnosed imbalance can be a matter of life and death. As Robert David Jaffee explains in his blog for The Huffington Post, "While mental illness [...] is prevalent throughout the world, it should not be cheapened by the latest fads. Mental illness, at least as I have experienced it, comes from the core. It is not fashionable in any sense."

As anyone who has lost someone to depression or another mental illness knows, one death is too many. If you haven't, consider yourself lucky. Because Sheena wasn't just a number. She was a friend, a daughter, a sister and the brilliant mind this generation needed. She was smart, funny and unapologetically unique.

She was anything but whiny.