Home Health Generational Differences in Mental Health Discussions: A Look at Gen Z

Generational Differences in Mental Health Discussions: A Look at Gen Z

by Yucatan Times
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Mental health can often impact the people around us – often in different ways. Recent data published by the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than one in five American adults live with a form of it – highlighting just how prevalent the issue is within the community.

In prior generations, mental health wasn’t something that was widely talked about. In today’s contemporary landscape, events such as Mental Health Month, as well as open and honest conversations about mental health, have transformed how we talk about mental health.

For mental health professionals, such as those who have completed online DNP PMHNP programs, understanding how different generations talk about mental health can help start a conversation. Let’s dive into the world of today’s young adults, and explore how the environment around them has helped change the conversation around mental health.

The Story Behind A Name

Have you ever heard of the term Baby Boomer, or perhaps even Millennial? These names may sound strange, but they’re a demographic label attached to different segments of the population over time.

Baby Boomers were a generation that demographers note was born between 1946 and 1964 – a period of post-war America that saw a boom in birthrates not seen before. Generations of people born after 1964 fit into one of many different generations – Gen X (1965 – 1980), Gen Y (1981 – 1996), sometimes known as Millennials as their youth and teen years occurred during the early parts of the new millennium, and Gen Z (1997 – 2012).

Why is a generational label important? While it’s not normally useful outside of demographic research (and the occasional discourse between older and younger generations), demographic labels allow researchers to understand how societal changes in attitudes and behaviors differ amongst groups.

A Shifting Mindset

Consider, for example, how one might try and get help for a mental health condition between generations. Research has shown that at different points in time, mental health was often stigmatized – rather than treatment, often the ‘cure’ was considered to be the imprisonment, torture, or killing of those affected by mental illness.

Baby Boomers, born in the years following World War 2, often saw firsthand how mental health was treated very differently from how it is today. Institutionalization was commonplace – at its peak in 1955, nearly 560,000 Americans were locked up in state-run asylums, simply because they were labeled as mentally ill. It’s been well-documented that asylums, while well intended, simply were not the most appropriate way to provide mental health support.

While there was reform in the 1960s and beyond, it’s understandable to see why many boomers may not necessarily feel comfortable discussing their mental health state.

In the decades since, however, we’ve seen a massive effort to de-institutionalize mental healthcare. This openness to talk about mental health has also resulted in a shift in the conversations between younger generations. No longer fearful of being locked up for having poor mental health, Gen Z feels much more empowered to express how they’re feeling, even if it can sometimes feel a bit abrupt for older generations.

Normalizing Mental Health

How do we begin to normalize mental health amongst our peers? If we look at Gen Z’s example, we can see that their openness is partially driven by generational shifts in how we perceive mental health in our society.

While Baby Boomers may not have originally felt comfortable talking about mental health, their kids, whether they were Gen X or Millennials, entered a world where while there were some stigmas associated with mental health, there was a broader discussion about mental health and its impacts.

Comedians, such as Maria Bamford, are using their platform to highlight mental illness – discussing her mental health issues that resulted in multiple psychiatric stays over eighteen months. Other comedians from around the world, including Taylor Tomlinson and Tom Papa, are also using their platforms to destigmatize and normalize mental health.

These conversations enable young people to feel more comfortable about discussing mental health issues than ever before. Instead of feeling isolated and alone when mental health impacts you, there’s a broader sense of social support, and help is more accessible than ever.

Learning From Gen Z

What can mental health professionals learn from the ways that Gen Z has normalized mental health discussions? As it turns out, some broader strategies can be adapted into the ways professionals talk about mental health with patients. While they may not work for everyone, they can often go a way towards breaking down the barriers that typically exist with older generations.

Providing reassurance that mental health issues are normal is a powerful tool. For those who have lived historical experiences where mental health was not given the same consideration as physical health, reassurance can help to tease out some concerns that patients have, in a safe and meaningful way.

Having open and honest discussions about mental health is also a powerful way to address stigmas associated with mental health. Sometimes, knowing that a relative or family member has gone through a mental health issue can help to provide comfort in knowing that you’re not alone with your issues.

There’s one final lesson we can learn from Gen Z – it’s a reminder that mental health doesn’t have to be a setback. Sure, mental health can sometimes feel like an obstacle to living a fulfilling life – however, in reality, it rarely is. Hopefully, by starting conversations and normalizing mental health, Gen Z’s message of hope and optimism can help to change the tone of how we talk about mental health as a society.

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