Older Generations Praise How Mental Health Is No Longer Seen In A ‘Negative, Very Stigmatised Way’
Once upon a time, mental health simply wasn’t spoken about.
Poor mental health was a private and personal matter that wasn’t openly discussed with others. It was taboo, stigmatised, and made out to be extremely controversial.
But, fast forward to the present day, and people have realised that mental health issues aren’t uncommon and therefore people shouldn’t be ashamed of having them. As of last year, data showed that one in four people in England will experience some kind of mental health issue each year.
This has been a slow, but positive generational shift towards a more open approach to mental health, with each generation becoming more and more accepting.
Sarah Frame, 60, spoke to UNILAD about how mental health issues were seen when she was younger, and how there was a ‘fear’ around it. She explained, ‘My generation was brought up with very little exposure to anything to do with mental health. There was a fear around mental illness – I mean absolute fear – and there was this idea that mental health hospitals were big, horrible castles filled with bad people and people called these facilities bad names.
‘It was terrifying for people. It would be like looking at a prison and being like, well I don’t really understand anything about it except it is very scary. And the shame, there was an awful lot of shame for my generation with anything to do with mental illness,’ Sarah continued.
Sarah believes this could have been down to her parents’ generation having gone through the war, and despite their harrowing experiences, people still didn’t speak about how they were feeling. She continued to note that post-war life was undeniably better than it was during the war, which caused her parents’ generation to believe that the younger generation had nothing to complain about.
She said, ‘Maybe a lot of those war experiences made that generation feel that, regarding my generation, we had nothing to complain about. [Back then] I don’t think the term mental health was even used. There was mental illness, but in a negative, very stigmatised way. It was all about keeping it covered up and not being open about it.’
Since then, Sarah has found that mental health has begun to be normalised. She explained:
Compared to 20 or 30 years ago, there are now ongoing conversations about mental health, and the normalising of mental health. I think what’s really positive is taking steps to try to maintain your mental health for everybody, rather than waiting for something to go wrong, and then trying to fix it.
One person who’s part of the generation that talk about their feelings is 25-year-old Tom Home, who finds talking about his mental health with friends as beneficial. Discussing if people a similar age to him talk about mental health as openly as he does, Tom told UNILAD, ‘I think they do, certainly a lot of people I’m friends with do because I’m the person in my friend group who suffers with mental health the most, so I speak about it to them. I feel like I’m quite lucky because my friends are very understanding, empathic and supportive.’
‘It really does depend from person to person really because, naturally depending on how you were brought up, has an effect on your stance on mental health,’ he added.
Tom went on to say that his mum has always been quite open with her own mental health with him, making him aware of mental health issues from a young age, and how they can affect people.
Noting that some people still shut down when the topic of mental health is brought up, Tom’s found that when people are given the space to talk about it on their own terms, a lot of the time they do. He said, ‘What I have found is that if you give people a platform to talk about their mental health, or even how they’re feeling at that moment in time, 9 times out of 10 I tend to find that they take it.’
Tom himself has set up a mental health platform named blOKes, specifically created for men to discuss their mental health with other men. He said that men from all age brackets have accessed the group’s services, typically ranging from ages 16 to late 40s.
I’ve had men, probably around my parents’ age, who have said that 30 years ago, we’d have never dreamed of going down to the pub with our mates to chat about how we’re feeling because you’d have been looked at like you have two heads or something.
It’s been nice to have that honesty from guys who are from an older generation who have said, ‘Look, while I appreciate I wouldn’t have spoken about this years ago, I feel like I’m able to do so now.’
Similar to some of the men who access support via blOKes, Darren Taylor, 44, has found that he’s become more open about his mental health over the years, compared to when he was a child. Discussing how mental health wasn’t spoken about when he was younger, he told UNILAD, ‘When I was growing up, approaches to mental health was totally hush hush and different. My upbringing wasn’t necessarily one of fear of speaking about it, I think it was just – like a lot of people – it just wasn’t something that was out there to speak about.’
While the topic was never discussed with his parents, Darren, a father-of-two, is determined to be more open with his children about mental health; his teenage son in particular.
I absolutely speak to my kids about mental health. I think because it’s more spoken about – they hear about it and school and things like that.
With my son in particular, he’s recently changed schools because he was suffering at his other school with bullying and things. His mental health was really suffering; he would come home and be up in his bedroom and showed signs of poor mental health. With this in mind, I really have to be open with him and say, ‘Look, anything on your mind, you need to tell me or anyone else. Because if it’s locked up inside, it’s just going to fester.’
‘I’m really keen to make sure that he understands that the way he feels about things is, it is how it is, but that it’s important to recognise why you’re feeling like that,’ Darren continued. ‘To just let him know that everyone deals with things differently and you don’t have to feel a certain way, and that you don’t have to act or conform to the way society expects you to feel. Getting that message across to him is really, really important.’
Fellow parent Kayleigh Johnston has also noticed a change in how mental health is approached compared to when she was a child. In school in particular, Kayleigh said that children with behavioural issues were seen as troublesome, but nowadays it’s known that bad behaviour in kids can sometimes be a result of poor mental health.
Kayleigh, 34, told UNILAD, ‘When I was little, behaviour that we now know is a response to anxiety was seen as naughtiness and punished accordingly. There was also no help in schools. Now, schools are so aware of mental health affecting the children and offer access to things like play therapists, quiet rooms, and personalised plans to help. It’s completely different to how it used to be and I would say that being open about mental health and wellness is a huge part of that.’
While there has been an evident improvement in mental health in schools, Kayleigh noted that we still have a bit of a way to go yet, ‘Being open about mental health removes the stigma. It’s not quite as commonplace as saying that you have taken paracetamol for a headache, but it is certainly getting there! I look forward to when it is normalised totally.
‘The world is a really busy, overwhelming place at times, and I see nothing wrong with sharing that sometimes it becomes too much and we need help to cope,’ Kayleigh concluded.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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