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The generational difference in attitude towards Mental Health: Gen X vs Gen Z

Researcher & Writer: Sian O'Hanlon

Illustrator: Josetta SO


Every generation's perspective on Mental Health is a product of the environment in which they were raised. The question I want to address is; why is there such a drastic difference between how Generation X and Generation Z view this concept of Mental Health? And what are the effects of this difference?


Those born between 1997 and 2012 belong to Generation Z. The generation that has been characterised by smartphone addictions, antisocial tendencies and hypersensitivity. Those born between 1965 to 1980 are named Generation X- characterised by “missing the good ol’ days”. Whether these things are true or not, it seems that there has been an uprising in Mental Health awareness recently, and a lot of this change stems from the advocacy of young people. I mean, you are currently reading this article on a Mental Health awareness website run by teenagers.

Before we understand the current climate, we must understand why mental health was previously stigmatised. Historically, the church would perpetuate ableist dogma through a veil of religion, claiming mental illness was a result of witchcraft and demonic possession.

Asylums would house these mentally ill individuals, isolating them from society. They would be kept in windowless rooms, beaten and chained to their bed – worsening their condition. In the 1940s, a new way of treating illness was found: electroshock therapy and cryotherapy. There is still debate over the effectiveness of these treatments, but either way, they’re inhumane. Procedures like this remained well in use into the 20th century.


This mistreatment arises from ignorance and a lack of research put into mental health. Physical health is a lot more concrete- it’s easily diagnosable from visual cues. Mental health is a lot more complicated, thus the public would rather discriminate and hold prejudice towards mentally ill people than provide support. The environment in which Gen X’ers grew up in was generally discriminatory towards those that suffer from mental illness, this is why there was and still is an existing stigma.


Nowadays, we see an influx of mental health awareness in standard media. I believe that this is caused by two main components; a lack of hope for the future in young people and social media. In the past, Generation X and previous generations had held a lot of expectations for the future. With the introduction of technology, people had high hopes for flying cars – or more realistically, an efficient world that was completely dependent on technology (which sort of is the case, but in a different and possibly negative way). On top of this, with the brand-new hippie movement, people advocated for environmental care. Although it was a cultural reset, the government and major companies still failed to make pro-environmental changes.


So Gen X’ers grew up on these utopian ideologies where they had hope for the future. Gen Z however, grew up on the devastating knowledge of a crippling world. I remember being about seven years old and hearing all about how the world will end if we don't refuse plastic bags or opt for paper straws. Or a picture of a malnourished polar bear attached to an article about how the earth is heating up rapidly. A bit too existential for children that don’t know how to spell photosynthesis yet. Not only the environment but the economy too. It seems that if you weren’t born rich then you’ll have to somehow work your way out of the abyss of debt, even though wages keep dropping and prices keep rising.


Without hope for the future, it is only normal that one starts to question what the point of working so hard is. Working so hard only to be tossed around by a government that is focused on separating the worker from the means of production (Marx’s theory of alienation). Gen Z has been informed from childhood that their future is doomed. This is bound to lead to a lack of hope for the future, therefore a deteriorating mental state.


The development of social media definitely contributes to the spread of mental health awareness. As established previously, many Gen Z’ers have increasing mental health concerns. As social media enables any individual to share every thought they think with a click of a button, people have started speaking more openly about their struggles with mental health. This includes

strangers on the internet and even celebrities. As a generation, we've erased the stigma around

mental illness and rendered it normal. This isn’t entirely positive though, as with all the knowledge of mental illnesses and disorders being so accessible, younger and younger people are beginning to self-diagnose. Depression has become so common that almost everyone claims to have it, which is harmful to those that are genuinely struggling with it. It seems like we’ve gone from one extreme to the other extreme.


These extremes have led to tension in a lot of families. Many parents currently belong to Gen X, with children that belong to Gen Z. It is difficult to come to common ground with such different concepts of Mental Health. Both Generations believe that the other's conceptions are absurd. A lot of teenagers with mental illness issues feel like they cannot speak openly about their problems to their parents because of the fear of belittlement with phrases like “it’s just a teenage phase” or “you’re being sensitive”. These statements don’t come from a place of malice, but instead from a place of misunderstanding. It is difficult for Gen X’ers to adapt to these foreign concepts.


Finally, I’d like to question if either of these beliefs is right. Discrimination against people with mental illness is incredibly harmful, but is it healthy for young people to be assuming a diagnosis? It seems like we need to find a balance. A balance where we advocate for the importance of understanding one’s own mental health, but refrain from going overboard.



Bibliography



Why Gen Z is open about mental health. Verywell mind. (March 25, 2021). Retrieved October 16 2022, from, https://www.verywellmind.com/why-gen-z-is-more-open-to-talking-about-their-mental-health-5104730


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