More than any generation that precedes it, Generation Z is defined by their struggles with mental health. Is this something to be taken seriously, or just another ‘new generation’ thing?
Can a concept live among us as both a stigma and a trend? Can something be both a taboo and a “fad”? As it turns out, at least one concept can – “mental health”. How many times have you come across these two words in your daily ritual of scrolling through social media, and found yourself either getting very serious or very dismissive? It can get confusing when trying to decide on a personal stance on this topic. On one hand, you clearly know for a fact that it isn’t something to be taken lightly. But then some teenager comes along – your friend, sibling, child, student, or whoever in the “Generation Z” you’re related to – and makes a huge fuss about how difficult life is, how they’re ‘depressed’ and more, and how this is too much to handle. Annoyed, you dismiss the teenager in question. Just another Tuesday.
The question remains – how much attention should you give to mental health then? Are all these adolescents and their ‘depression’, etc. a serious issue, or is it just what passes for “cool” these days? Unfortunately, the answer is “both”. So, the only way out of this confusion is to educate ourselves a little about mental health, for once!
Firstly - stop rationalizing mental health issues. A very common household mistake is to try and apply too much of our personal ‘logic’ to the situation – to look for a cause-and-effect relationship, to judge someone’s suffering against how ‘apparently perfect’ their life seems to be. A mental health condition is supposed to be disproportionate, compared to the apparent trigger. You can only start to understand how mental health works when you stop projecting your personal standards of how much of the Effect a person “gets” to have, based on how severe the Cause seems to you. Personal opinions, contrary to popular belief, are personal! How you dealt with the struggles in your own life, what solutions worked for you – tales such as these may make for good conversations, but are hardly ever helpful to someone truly suffering.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” — Fred Rogers
By now you might be wondering – how, then, are we supposed to know what to get concerned about, and what to write off as “#justgenzthings”. One of the most reliable markers is a noticeable change in academic performance, as well as their preferred hobbies or preferred pastimes. If your little brother is doing just as ‘fine’ in his exams, and is just as passionate about PUBG as he always was...perhaps it’s best not to validate whatever Big Science Word he decided to suffer from this week!
The sum total incidence of mental health issues among school children didn’t suddenly increase because of this new apparent ‘trend’. But please do not assume that these issues aren’t common. They have always existed – yes even in your school, or your parents’, or your grandparents’. School kids of today just use newer words to describe the myriad manifestations of what you probably know as “boyosh er dosh”.
"We know enough to think we're right, but not enough to know we're wrong"
- Neil Degrasse Tyson
One in ten schoolchildren suffer from some form of Anxiety Disorder or the other. These usually start at home, after witnessing some form of domestic discord (not necessarily directed at them), and then sustained by years of being told how they aren’t as good as their cousin or neighbour. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder almost always starts at a very young age, and is attributed largely to watching different habits in family members. If you find yourself annoyed and disappointed in your children for these, odds are they’re not the ones to blame.
Depression, despite its buzzword status, is far less common, although rare instances do pop up now and then. It does however demand more concern, especially in the latter half of the teenage years.
Whether you are an elder sibling, a parent, a teacher, or even a classmate, getting to know and understand schoolchildren of today may seem like a daunting task at times. How about you start by simply trying to be their friend? Making a new friend always requires a bit of effort, a little attention. We have been raising these children telling them how family is their “closest friend”. It’s high time we started acting like a friend too.
The writer is an Honorary Medical Officer, Department of Psychiatry, DMCH