the intersection of generations and mental health

Lately I’ve found myself arguing in support of generations that are younger tham me. I am technically a Gen Xer. My birth falls well within the dates and I readily identify (or understand) with the stereotypes applied. However, I am the mother, coworker, teacher, and student of millenials. I feel millenials are worlds away from the identity they’ve been assigned and pigeon holed by society. This juxtaposition is alarming enough that I feel a need to address the situation because millenials are the generation that “gets it.”

It would be impossible for me to not talk about the issues of mental health with regards to generational differences, but it is not the only area. Experience as a universal guide, both generations experienced economic prosperity and recession, both see technological innovations permeate the world, both have dreams realised and crushed and both know the struggle of health issues, especially mental health issues. However, the way millenials understand mental health is far different than a Gen Xer. I know. I know because for the majority of my life I was a judgemental, angry, mind over matter sterotypical Xer who followed the hard and fast rule of “pull up your bootstraps and get over it.” (I have apologies to make for that mindset, but that is another post.)

Years ago, a very wise young person told me that my generation was full of “miserable, depressed alcoholics on anti-depressants.” I had/have a hard time arguing against that. Most of the people I knew/know fit that description. While I have no idea whether or not our parents (ok boomers) fell into the same trap at their mid-life point. They definitely did not have so many drugs available. Oddly enough when you read the paperwork on most of the SSRI’s, they state not knowing exactly how they work on the brain. Telling, isn’t it.

These Gen Xers, miserable and unable to cope, hone in on their other generational attributes. We are cynical, sceptical, non-believers (only in what we choose to not believe). We can be less sensitive to causes such as climate change, LGBTQ rights, civil rights (becasue we think that was ‘solved’ in the 60s). A generation of latchkey kids, raised by a two parent working or divorced family, and tech that moved as fast as it does today (MTV, cable, Atari). We held on and rode the wave with hair bands, new wave, punk rock, skateboards and cassette tapes. Sex was still taboo (my earlier post states where I fall on that issue). Gen Xers were the future, until…

The millenial generation came along in the eighties. But before I head off into what makes a millenial so awesome, I should address a few things. (Most of which I discovered while outlining this post.) My friend base (the people I can really count on in my life) are pretty much all in the early 30s category. I didn’t plan this. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but it did. I have little to few friends in my own age group, or I feel somewhat disconnected from them. I have, and do, work with millenials. I have gone to school with them, hung out and found I easily relate and find more comfort with them. They are less judgemental, more interesting and understanding. I am often tasked with working closer or training new people who represent millenials. Many Gen Xers say, “I can’t deal with them. They are so entitled and lazy, always on their phones.” Sterotypes taken as truth. It’s discouraging for both parties involved. Not to mention, it fails on arrival. Because the experience I’ve had and the wide range of millenials I know, I think it is time they took the lead in the world; politically, economically, socially, environmentally, et. al.

Millenial stereotypes seem to run back to front from Gen Xers depending on timing. They weren’t latchkey, rather had care of some sort of after school care whenever possible. They are more hopeful while still acknowledging the issues Gen X is ambivalent to. They value diversity and change rather than fighting for a status quo that, let’s be honest, hasn’t existed for a long time. Rather than seeking a “life/work balance,” millenials seek meaning in the work they do. All these ideas are generalisations, but I find they fit. The attitude and approach are just as important for both groups when they interact. I was taught a long time ago to treat people with respect for their dignity. It’s easy enough to follow and has served me well. Age is not a default to respect, but neither is it a rush to judgement. Simply respect and treat everyone the same (this includes kids, elderly, old, young, the lot). Equal respect, that’s an addendum to the golden rule. (I refuse to explain that one, it should be known. Kidding, not kidding.)

Both generations were pegged as lazy slackers in their prime, but I suspect both will find solace knowing it’s not true for either. Both are entitled up to a point, that is as much about the place as it is time we are here on the planet. (Clearly Americans of any age benefit in ways that most of the rest of the world does not.) Both are tech savvy, but millenials keep moving along with it while, let’s be honest, Gen Xers fall in the “do or do not” category. Where Crack and AIDS came along, Opiods and mental health moved in. It’s a shift, nothing new. However, the big change I see is the way millenials understand and view what mental health is. How it effects a person. They accept it as real and a true detriment to overall health. Compassion replaces cynicism, hope pushes through anger.

My millenials are my friends, my children, my bosses, my co-workers and in many cases my saviours. They have seen me through dark times, reminded me of my faults and calmed me with my strengths. They move through the shit life hands them by rerouting their plans and moving on, not getting derailed and hateful to everyone they encounter. They take their prescriptions and talk about their struggles a more openly, not hiding both in medicine cabinets, purses and under beds. Mind you, these are generalities and I know plenty of exceptions to the rules in either group, but my experience has been millenials get a really bad reputation for no good reason.

My mental health challenges didn’t surface fully until my 40s. I was fortunate to find both diagnosis and help. That does not mean it was easy. I’ve been fighting my own mind (when I could find it healthy enough) for nearly a decade. In less than two years I was given nearly 30 different prescriptions, often the side effects were worse than my disorders run amok. Seven years later, I learned not everyone thinks about suicide like me, or that all drugs are weaknesses. I am only starting to accept I cannot just “get over it.” Part of that acceptance is because of the strenth the millenials in my life possess. They appear to understand better than I do. By no means are they open and honest about everything in life – that’s some weird utopia that doesn’t exist. But they do pull us middle-agers out of our wannabe stoic attitude. I’m not sure I would have finally noticed “me” between my manic-depression if not for my kids, nor would I have opened myself up in therapy (even if only a little) without my friends. I am grateful.

To all of you sceptical (or cynical) to the ability or intentions of millenials in the world, I say, “get over it.” Whether or not anyone likes it, they will inherit the earth. I believe they have the tools and the intellect to take it on now. I would much rather see them move into places of power and authority in order to pull the world into the century we live. Government regulation is already overrun by people (Boomers) who cannot pronounce technology or understand it, yet we want them to legislate over it? (It’s usually well after the damage is done or monopolies developed). I, for one, advocate passing the torch before the next generation, the Xers fuck it all up, once again. Boomers are running the planet into the ground. The generation right behind them have come along, but not necessarily ahead. Why not let those who understand both – the people and the future – teach and support us, while they harness the power of tomorrow. I suspect, the retirement funds, legislation of tech and big business, education, and (oh yes) healthcare changes they make would improve the world exponentially. I know that while some millenials will reject Gen Xers as peers, more will embrace, educate and assist them/us. I look forward to spending more time with my kids, my friends, my millenials.

Published by KLS

Hi, I'm Kristen. Who am I? There are too many labels to apply, but none that define me. I'm a woman, searching for meaning in the world and find that I'm never satisfied. I have far too many interests than I cannot possibly bundle them together in a single neat package. If you came here looking for an expert, go away. If you want to experience a myriad of topics, interests, and opinions you believe have nothing in common, you are home.

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