Millennials, GenZ, and Stigma

I just saw this on Facebook.

kids stigma

 

Leaving aside for a moment that, like everything else, it jumps from Boomers to Millennials and GenZ, skipping over my entire generation like we were the embarrassing child you pop into a backroom when company comes over, where we sit and sulk and listen to dark music and smoke Cloves and talk about how everyone else are conformists and we don’t need their approval, and…ah, sorry.  Got lost in thought.

Anyway, my main point here is the message, not the fact that GenX is just non-existent as if we had no effect on the zeitgeist at all, as if Clerks wasn’t a movie and grunge wasn’t a thing or whatever.

kids stigma 4
Oh, come on!

OK, that’s out of my system.

I like the message here, that younger people are more accepting of therapy and mental health issues.  That it’s being spoken about more openly, that’s it’s no longer so taboo.  I decided to look into it because that would be amazing.  And since the Millennials and GenZ now outnumber the Boomers, this is a huge wave.

This is a very hopeful article I found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness – NAMI’s site. Millennials And Mental Health

This paragraph in particular really hit me:

“Mental health conditions run in our family. My mom had depression. My youngest daughter and I have recovered from panic disorder. Mackenzie was aware of our family history, and maybe that made it easier for her to talk about her symptoms. But I think the main reason she was encouraged to get professional help was that she heard her friends and coworkers openly discuss their mental health issues. Mackenzie didn’t feel ashamed or alone.”

I cannot imagine discussing my illness at work.  The idea of anyone “finding out” has caused me crippling fear all my life, caused me to use a pseudonym on this blog, almost took away my name so that I could hide.  It caused me to fear and hate the thing in me.  The idea of coming into work and saying, “Sorry I was out yesterday, I had a serious bipolar episode, and I was in the hospital.  Hey, can I have a donut?” is still just inconceivable to me.

But if the younger generations are getting a handle on it, (Millennials run from 1981-1996, please stop calling them kids) that could be a huge turning point for all of us, even GenX who are totally a thing and I’m sitting right here typing.  We could all benefit. This is not just a question of openness, of comfort, it’s potentially a matter of life and death.  If mental illness is so hidden and stigmatized, if people feel so shameful about it, it may go undiagnosed and untreated.  No one should have to live with that burden, and if it’s starting to become more accepted, this is something to be celebrated.

While writing this, though, I found an alarming statistic.  I found several articles that all came down to the same general conclusion; Millennials and GenZ are reporting mental health concerns at a higher rate than before, but self-harm/suicide ideation/and suicide is higher as well.  I found several articles with possible reasons for this, but I think this one covers them.  Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns

But there’s a paragraph that brings us back to my original point.

“At the same time, the high percentage of Gen Z reporting fair or poor mental health could be an indicator that they are more aware of and accepting of mental health issues. Their openness to mental health topics represents an opportunity to start discussions about managing their stress, no matter the cause.”

They are more stressed for a variety of reasons, and they are more likely to report it and talk about it openly.  So why are they also hurting themselves more?  Pain does not disappear solely because it is talked about, there are still root causes for it.  The younger generations are getting a handle on openness and throwing out shame, but are we taking this seriously?  Are we giving them the help and support they need?  I can identify my broken arm, but what if no one will fix it?  I didn’t find anything specific to those questions, so I’ll leave them as questions. Hopefully, someone with more knowledge than I have will chime in.

What I take from all of this is that while there are alarming things, there is also room for celebration.  If stigma is truly being chipped away, if every new generation is more open about mental illness and that it is a medical issue like any other, then that is something I didn’t expect to see in my lifetime.

So many of the problems that are so specific to Millennials and GenZ – not enough real interaction, comparing themselves to the happy smiling lives on Facebook or Instagram  – are attributed to social media; I think the changes in stigma can be traced to that too.  The concept of privacy is changing, even on this blog I’ve posted pictures of myself and my private life that sometimes give me night-terrors, so the people who’ve grown up knowing nothing else, wouldn’t their concept of privacy change?  With so many celebrities self-revealing and talking about what it is and is not, wouldn’t that have an effect on the thinking, on the world view?  How can that be anything but good?

I have more questions than answers here because I’m not a doctor and I don’t want to try to simplify such complex issues.  But really, it does make me hopeful.

It took me 47 years to slowly begin to reveal.  I had to work through exhaustion, pain, crippling fear.  I hid my legitimate illness because I was afraid of not getting jobs, being fired from jobs, being mocked, feared, treated with eye-rolling dismissal, even now, as I look for work, I can’t help but feel these familiar pangs.  So I am hopeful that the younger generations can look back at that, at stigma, at fear, and furrow their brows and say “What was the big deal?”

I would also like to point out the obvious here – all of this sprung from a meme I saw on Facebook.  That just amuses me.

I’m including the list of resources for you since this article talked about some painful things.  Please do call one if you need to.  Remember, it’s a legitimate illness and stigma can fuck right off.

 

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

 

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

Free, confidential, 24/7 support.

https://www.rainn.org/

 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

PFLAG Support Hotlines

The hotlines listed below provide services to callers across the country. If you’re looking for a local support network, also contact one of PFLAG’s more than 400 chapters in the United States.

https://pflag.org/hotlines

 

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