Despite mental health awareness being a common topic of discussion, some people are still in denial. The ‘some people’ mentioned here does not imply just our parents or the older population, but some of us youngsters too. Speaking of mental health, have you ever wondered about your parents’ mental health? Even if you are someone who is genuinely into mental health awareness, there’s a chance that you’re oblivious to your parents’ mental health. When we usually speak of mental health awareness, it mostly targets Millennials or Gen Z. Gen X, however, is left out.
Many from our parents’ generation were married at a young age, much before they had the time to figure out what they wanted for themselves, and had to take on the burden of responsibilities. And so their lives have been spent in trauma and anxiety. The indigestible and often authoritarian response we get from our parents is mostly triggered by their past traumas. These age-old traumas might even end up being toxic to both the child and the parent. Recent researches suggest that children living with parents who have mental illnesses are 50% likely to have mental health issues in their future. The lack of awareness clubbed with age-old stereotypes hinders one from understanding mental health issues, let alone get help.
The cause for their mental health traumas varies from childhood trauma, gaslighting (especially because of the patriarchal conventions), excess responsibilities, and lack of a support system. While the men in the household suffer from these, the impact on women is more when it is accompanied by their hormonal conditions. As they advance to menopause, the constant mood swings become more evident and the effect can be felt intensely by some. However, researches are yet to confirm the link between menopause and depression. We do have proof of the fact that women who have experienced postpartum depression or clinical depression may be more vulnerable during menopause.
The socio-political conditions, economy, familial conditioning, etc. have created a strong foundation on which traumas and anxieties of an ageing parent are built on. While for men, it could be the vicious cycle of money-making, for women, it is the lack of pleasure activities that tend to build stress (not denying other factors that add to this).
With the privilege of being in a time where constant efforts and awareness of mental health issues are taking place, why not employ our understanding and privilege to empathise with our parents and help them cope?
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Here are a few tips to help your parents:
Considering the deep impact of conditioning, it is difficult to break free from the shell. Even when one of your parents is struggling with anxiety or depression, social norms and the fear of being judged hinders them from getting help. With an ‘authoritarian’ parenting style, the one-way communication (from the parent to the child and not vice versa) makes it awkward and difficult for parents to ask help from their child. Hence, awareness is required to enable deep communication with your parents and understand their problems.
The easiest and most foolproof idea to create awareness without making it awkward is to introduce them to books or youtube videos that discuss these issues. But, make sure that these come from authentic sources. This is just a practical method, an initiation that will make it easier for them to understand or open up about their issues or their need for medical support. Pretty sure, some of you reading this have employed this one way or the other.
It is natural for some of us to get caught in our busy schedule and have less family time. However, it’s important to listen to your ageing parents. There are instances where the parents would be willing to open up but can’t find someone to do so. A good tip would be to speak to them about their childhood, understand how life was for them when they were kids. The more they open up, the better they will feel.
Understand and empathise
One can’t replace a therapist. However, one can always understand and empathise with another living being. So the next time your parents snap at you for seemingly nothing, try to understand the cause of that emotion. It is not always a grudge towards you, but it could simply be an act of passive aggression or stress that they are going through (this statement, however, is not an invalidation of an abusive household; we know how traumatising that can be). Talk to them empathetically, and ask them why they feel that way and what you can do about it to help them.
Help them find a Hobby
Ignite the idea of having a hobby. Sometimes a simple assurance that we as kids can manage certain things on our own can be given to them in response to their reply of ‘ithinokke evideya samyam’. It needn’t be a grand, fancy hobby but something like catching up with their college friends after ages, gardening or something as simple as journaling could be suggested.
Introduce them to the Idea of Self-love
One thing many of us will associate with our parents is their selflessness. Gen X was brought up at a time where stability and success in life meant to live a great (mostly rich) life with the limited resources they had. The selflessness and sacrificial mentality that was initiated then still continues even when they are in a comfortable financial position. One way to recondition this tendency would be to introduce the idea of self-love to them.
The next time your amma saves up money to gift you, ask her to buy a gift for herself.
Encourage them to call for professional help
Always encourage your parents to call for professional help if needed. Bust the myths related to mental health and make it comfortable for them to call for help. While we all stand by the privilege and our awareness of mental health, most often, we lack access to the right information. It’s an understated fact that there are certain households where the children themselves prevent their parents from seeking professional help. This can be due to various reasons like the social stigma, the lack of time, or simply, denial.
Viewing things from a different perspective is not always easy. The privilege that is bestowed on us is therefore a boon to slowly learn and unlearn certain things. I hope we will be able to learn and start the change from our households. After all, it is the small act of sharing and caring that fosters the entity called family.
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