Story by Courtney Burleigh
As the years go by, it is safe to assume that society’s views on different issues and topics change over time. It is not unusual for the newer generations to prioritize different issues and have varying perspectives that differ from those of earlier generations, including topics that may have been considered unpleasant or even uncomfortable to discuss. Such topics include mental health, politics and even education. All of these have carried some relevance in society for decades.
Millennials Embrace Mental Health
Mental health is a topic that is no stranger to most millennials. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, millennials grew up hearing about depression, suicide, anxiety and eating disorders. Exposure to such information could suggest why younger generations have become more accepting of others with mental illnesses or prompting them to speak out and get help. However, this was not always the case. Humanities Dean Toni Castillo said when she was younger, the topic of mental health in the 1960s was rarely discussed openly. “Mental health issues were generally thought of as a weakness or oddity rather than an actual illness,” Castillo said. “Certainly alcoholism and drug addiction were viewed back then as a character failing rather than an illness. The stigma was being labeled as a person of weak character, or as a criminal.”
When the United States entered the Vietnam War in 1965, the links between mental health and trauma began to surface. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it was not until 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized and named post-traumatic stress disorder as a mental disorder. “Conditions we would now define as bipolar disorder or PTSD were not openly discussed because the main treatment was institutionalization,” Castillo said. “However ... the concept of counseling had begun to emerge, and it [created] a dividing line, with some—especially older generation people—scoffing and ridiculing those who sought treatment.” Castillo continued to describe how a contrast began to form between the older and younger generations on the topic of mental illness, saying the younger generations found the treatments for mental illness “intriguing” and even “full of possibilities.” By the late-‘90s and early-2000s, the stigma began to dissipate. Rose State Political Science Professor Dr. Emily Stacey said society began to “open up.” “It was during the 2000s that we as a society started to be more open about mental health issues,” Stacey said. “From the cultural
and societal level, [we] did see an opening of minds in relation to mental health.”
Now that society began to shift its perspective, how likely were individuals to seek help?
“High,” said Stacey. “I was in therapy for most of my teenage years into my freshman year of college, and I recommend it for
anyone that needs to work through issues of any sort.”
Generational Difference in Higher Education
While some students were studying politics, others decided to stop studying altogether. According to NPR.org, a college education to baby boomers was not “as critical to a middle-class lifestyle.”
Castillo said that after finishing high school, she “moved very slowly” when it came to balancing life and college.
“Out of necessity, I became independent at a very young age, so I worked full-time through college to support myself,” she said, adding that she focused on paying bills, buying groceries and finding study time. “At that time, I didn’t think of college as means to a better economic future as most students do today ... It wasn’t until my first semester in graduate school that I began to link education and employment.”
Stacey stated something similar, saying she was lucky enough to be able to focus on what she loved, but what about today’s students? “I am not sure that I was as focused on a career path as I should have been when I was going through my undergraduate,” Stacey said. “[But] I think that students today are focused more on finding a suitable and lucrative career path, which is good, but [they] may be missing some of the ‘getting to know yourself’ part of college. This is important too.”
She may be correct. According to a Gallup poll cited by the Washington Post, only 38 percent of millennials with bachelor’s
degrees thought their higher education was worth it, and that they saw their degree as “the only entry ticket for any good job.”
On the contrary, the majority of millennials seem to disagree with this sentiment. The younger generations are beginning to think they can be just as successful without a college degree, similar to what baby boomers once did. According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of baby boomers have bachelor’s degrees, with at least 388,000 returning to college. It can be said that among some millennials, opinions about higher education may have come full circle, yet 61 percent remain in college, according to Pew data. Discussing topics like mental health has not always been an easy task. However, time has proven that with proper research and exposure, society will become more informed, which reduces stigma and bias against mental health.