Time to relax the ‘stiff upper lip’?

There are so many differences between the generations we notice as we grow older, and watch our children and their friends grow up and start to become adult individuals. Strange tastes in music, unusual fashion choices and differences in the way younger generations interact and socialise may be some of the things we notice – in marked contrast to our own parents generation as well as our own. In looking at these differences between generations there are often things we can learn and apply to our own lives.

One of these differences is in the approach to understanding mental health and accepting the importance of addressing mental health issues which can arise throughout life. Younger people generally have good mental health awareness, and are more accepting of others who have mental health issues. In effect there has been a cultural shift meaning it is OK to admit to a mental health problem and seek help to address it. In contrast, older generations are more likely to ‘just get on with it’, ‘buck up’, or keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ when faced with a mental health problem. In part, this is might come from the social stigma that once impacted people’s views of mental illness in the past. But it may also be that the ‘keep calm and carry on’ generations simply don’t recognise some mental health problems such as generalised anxiety, and may have a much narrower view of what mental illness is.

It’s not just a generational thing. In many jobs and professions it can be difficult to address mental health problems, where traditionally it has been seen as important to maintain that ‘stiff upper lip’. Where modern working pressures impact on people working in these areas, it can lead to widespread problems in terms of mental health. Teaching and Medicine are two areas that spring to mind. In a 2017 survey of NHS workers, 38% felt unwell due to workplace stress in the previous 12 months, and another recent survey indicated a quarter of doctors have been diagnosed with a mental health condition (and 90% of those attribute it to workplace stress).

We are all equally vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems, no matter what age we are or what job role we have. Sometimes, repressing emotions and mental health issues over years or even decades can itself lead to crises. Perhaps it’s time to learn from the younger generation that it can be a good thing to relax the stiff upper lip