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It Starts With A Conversation: The Generational Gap In Opening Up About Mental Health

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

by Mikhaila Garcia

Earlier this year, Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka shocked the world when they decided to leave their respective competitions. Both athletes stated that they were under immense pressure professionally and personally and that it had taken a toll on their mental health. Their decisions fueled a debate about mental health among fans and critics alike. Critics argue that Biles is a quitter and jeopardized her team’s success.

Ben Maller, host of The Ben Maller Show on Fox Sports radio, said that Biles was the “biggest quitter in sports” and emphasizes that those in support of Biles are only making excuses for her failure. He said, “I was raised to always follow the code of ‘you always finish what you start’, and you always finish your work. Those are important things to me. In a life well-lived, you don’t quit, and even if you take it on the chin, you take it with a smile on your face”.

Aaron Reitz, a Texas deputy attorney general, called Biles a “selfish, childish, national embarrassment”. Critics of Osaka claim she is an “arrogant spoiled brat, whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions” after her decision to withdraw from the French Open this year.

Those in support of both Biles and Osaka’s decisions commend their bravery and support their decision to put themselves first. One of Bile’s teammates even defended her decision stating that, “She's Simone for a reason. She's not a quitter. You will never see Simone go out there and not do what she knows she can do”.

These statements reflect the generational gap in the overall perception of mental health and the stigma surrounding opening about any mental health struggles. In a national study done by Blue Cross, Blue Shield 68% of Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s state that their mental health is good or excellent, while only 49% of of millenials say the same. While this gap can be attributed to the fact that in general, mental health issues are most likely to affect individuals in their teens and young adulthood, the juxtaposing attitudes surrounding Biles’ and Osakas’ decision to withdraw for mental health reasons showcases the beliefs about mental health in each generation.

Younger generations have a much more accepting view of opening up about their mental health struggles. Teens and millennials are often sharing their experiences with depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders on various social media platforms in order to raise awareness and help each other feel less alone. If you scroll through Tik Tok you’ll come across hundreds of videos with hashtags like, #actuallyborderline, #ptsd, #ocdawareness, #whatdepressionlookslike in which individuals share their lived experience with these conditions, followed by hundreds of comments thanking them for sharing their experiences.

Older generations are much less likely to talk about their mental health struggles, compared to the younger generation. Many older individuals believe that people should ”pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, without seeking any outside help for their internal struggles. 2 out of 3 baby boomers experience mental health symptoms, but many brush them off because they feel that they are not that serious or that “mental health does not affect them”. In spite of this, only 60% of older generations get the help they need for mental health conditions.

These beliefs highlight a stark contrast between how each generation views mental health. Younger generations are less concerned about the stigma of being diagnosed with a mental health condition and more focused on spreading awareness and connecting with other people when sharing their experiences. It seems that they see this as integral in part of their recovery. Older generations are still much more concerned ab

out how they may be perceived by others and believe that they should be able to “just get through it” or that what they are experiencing is “not that bad”. Younger people see taking care of your mental health as self-care, while older people see it as selfish----so the question remains, how do we bridge this gap and encourage people to open up?

In order to close the gap, we must encourage vulnerability and wel

come people to share their experiences and struggles without judgment. One of the most important lessons we can learn from Bile’s and Osaka's decisions is that it is okay not be okay. Osaka said it best when she said,

“It has become apparent to me that literally everyone eith

er suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does. The number of messages I received from such a vast cross-section of people confirms that. I think we can almost universally agree that each of us is a human being and subject to feelings and emotions” -Naomi Osaka, TIME Magazine July 8, 2021

Opening up about your mental health doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. You’re not a coward; you’re brave, and it is in accepting and allowing ourselves to fail that we can achieve greater success. Remember it starts with a conversation.

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