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Boomers Vs Gen Z: The Raging Debate On Mental Health

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By Dr Debanjan Banerjee, Psychiatrist, Apollo Multispecialty Hospitals, Kolkata- 31 October 2022

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So, the story goes something like this- a much revered and decorated Indian ex-cricketer Kapil Dev terms “pressure” and “depression” as an American phenomenon, an exotic entity -foreign to the Indians like him and goes on to say, “AC school main padhte ho, maa-baap fees detey hain, teacher aapko haath nahin laga sakta, aur aapko pressure hai…” (You study in an air-conditioned school, your parents pay your fees, the teacher can’t lay a hand on you and you complain about the pressure!). At this, a plethora of gen Zs and millennials online take deep offence and do what they do best- incessantly troll him over the internet and call him names many of which are ageist slurs. Many wrote sermonic articles and blogs explaining how the boomers (of which Kapil Dev is one) have little or no understanding of the myriad mental pitfalls and vagaries that beset the path of the contemporary youth. All this started with the question of modern cricketers feeling a lot of “emotional pressure” due to IPL and the constant scrutiny because of it. So, let's delve deeper into this “coming of age” issue and the contextual play herein.

“DEPRESSION” AND “EMOTIONAL HEALTH” ARE NOT “FOREIGN”

Yes, it was a foot-in-the-mouth moment for the legendary cricketer when he seemingly trivialized mental health issues by referring to them as a part of the American lexicon insinuating weak-mindedness or simply too much softness and coddling on the part of Indian cricketers who put down poor performances to overwhelming pressure to perform or depression and mental fatigue. And no! Mental health issues can’t be simply willed away and trivialized anymore in India considering there are about 5-8% of Indians who have either suffered or are suffering from depression and such issues at any given point in time. And an ever-increasing rate of self-harm and suicides in India requires an “all hands on the deck” approach to tackle this raging hellfire. The sooner we realize that suffering caused by poor mental health is inexorably real and punishing, the better our chances of managing it effectively. The millennials and boomers are aware of this all and are vocal about it augurs well for the long arduous road ahead.

ALL PERSONAL FAILURES CAN’T BE ATTRIBUTED TO MENTAL HEALTH  

There have been several top-notch athletes around the world including cricketers who have stepped down or taken a break from their respective sports citing major or minor mental health issues- from gymnast Simone Biles, and tennis player Naomi Osaka to cricketers like Jonathan Trott and Ben Stokes. Various other premier-level athletes take time off from their sports citing personal reasons and other not-so-clear reasons. These athletes on break have gone back to their drawing boards, sought help and come back the same brilliant specimens if not even stronger- their various lucrative contracts and endorsements notwithstanding. This phenomenon in Indian athletes including cricketers, was conspicuous by absence till a certain Virat Kohli comes along who likes to wear his heart on his sleeve and is quite vocally upfront on these often-skirted issues. He’s very much in sync with the current generation of millennials and is fervently admired and defended by the same lot, no matter what or who he’s up against. He has expressed that his recent poor run of form has much to do with playing under so much pressure and under confidence which sets off a vicious cycle.

Learning a trick or two from their senior others around him have often sought refuge for their underwhelming performances under the loosely defined too much “stress” or “pressure” which the arm chaired, social media savvy and all for a cause- vociferous youths interpret to be depression and other such serious mental illnesses. According to these idolaters- any and every form of stress or pressure mentioned by their “demi-gods” amounts to depression and of course, these same athletes should get the long rope and all the help they need because they are the sufferers of such calamitous conditions. Of course, you never strike a man when he’s already down! But these are the same athletes who cite mental health issues for their poor performances playing for the country but are very willing to play in the much more rewarding IPL. Even Kohli who has taken breaks from international cricket due to mental health issues and stress doesn’t miss an IPL match or a sponsorship campaign unless he’s physically injured. It’s not that they don’t have options to choose from. Take a break from IPL, cut back from the relentless drive to succeed, seek help, and do whatever restores and replenishes your mind and spirit. But what do these cricketers do- keep pushing themselves for the big money and the instant fame IPL brings? And if you perform poorly, you can always blame the “stress” and “pressure”. This kind of behaviour reeks of duplicity and hypocrisy on their part and is fooling no one but their staunch followers.

WHAT NEXT?

So, where are we heading in this matter? There’s a lesson for everyone involved in this media furore. The boomers need to make a little effort and try to understand that mental illness isn’t just a glib term to mask laziness and failures. Also, that poor mental conditioning can have debilitating effects on anyone’s physical performance. A healthy body can’t function without a healthy mind. On the other hand, the gen-Z and the millennials need to understand that some stress and pressure in any field is a given and helps boost creativity and performance (Read the Yerkes- Dodson law). The issue remains of finding the right balance. Also, by loosely using terms which are characteristic of serious mental conditions- they are co-opting and hence undermining the severity of these issues and making a mockery of the real patients. By aligning their temporary feelings of stress and lack of form with those of people suffering from mental health conditions, they are footing these already stigmatizing issues. There’s a wide chasm between being distressed and being diseased. We need a more nuanced and fine-tuned narrative of mental illness that caters to people who need help. And yes, feelings don’t trump logic just as our heroes are not infallible!

If you are suffering from mental health issues or know someone dealing with the same and need expert advice,

Consult Dr Debanjan Banerjee

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