The Timing of the Mental Health Crisis Couldn’t Be worse for Generation X

Generation X , Mental Health , Uncategorized Jun 12, 2017 No Comments

When I tell people how much counseling is improving my mental health, I get the same response. “I really need to do that. How much does it cost? Do they take insurance?”

While lot’s of counselors would be glad to take your insurance, high co-pays and deductibles raise a financial wall that many hurting American’s aren’t willing or able to scale. I spoke with Donnie Underwood, a licensed counselor here in Louisiana who clarified the issue. 

“…the issue I’m seeing is that so many people I counsel with have insurance but are responsible for the first $4,000 due to their deductible. So they decline services. ” Underwood mentioned that the copay for counseling costs the client $115 for the first visit and $100 for subsequent sessions. 

But just because many Americans are holding onto their cash and refusing mental health services doesn’t mean they don’t need them.

In fact, according to research by  NYU Langone Medical Center., this issue is so widespread that  America finds herself right in the middle of a full-blown mental health crisis.

NYU’s decade-long study revealed that there are more people suffering from serious psychological distress than ever before. (SPD combines feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and restlessness that are hazardous enough to impair people’s physical well-being.)

Unfortunately, this rise in demand for mental health care hasn’t been matched by a rise in supply of mental health services.

Lead study investigator, Dr. Judith Weissman reports. “More Americans than ever before suffer from serious psychological distress, and the country’s ability to meet the growing demand for mental health services is rapidly eroding.”

According to Weissman, many are paying the ultimate price due to the crisis.

“Based on our data, we estimate that millions of Americans have a level of emotional functioning that leads to lower quality of life and life expectancy,” Weissman continues, “Our study may also help explain why the U.S. suicide rate is up to 43,000 people each year.”

Ouch!

Although mental health issues are no respecter of generation, the timing of the mental health crisis couldn’t be worse for Generation X.

There are four reasons why.

1. Family Pressure

Family is one of life’s great paradoxes. Relatives can be our greatest source of joy and our greatest source of stress simultaneously. The cliche that pressure can both create diamonds and burst pipes explains why geysers are erupting all over the place among families my age.

Family pressure is particularly acute among Generation X due to the unique combination of raising dependent children on the one hand, while dealing with aging parents on the other.    

generation-x-characteristics

Credit Alona Kraft – Unsplash

Dependent Children and Aging Parents

Raising children is beautiful. Raising children is also physically, financially, and mentally taxing. I have four of them and they explore both the far reaches of my joy and exasperation daily. Children invade your sleep, tax your emotions, and empty your bank account.  

Although it may sound like I want to put mine up for adoption, nothing could be farther from the truth. My children are an incalculable blessing, and every sacrifice I make for them is worth it ten times over.

With that said, they really, really, stress me out.

While the crucible of child rearing is not new to Generation X, the added strain of aging parents is. This phenomenon was birthed because….well…Gen-Xers waited so long to give birth.

Unlike previous generations, Gen-X delayed married. We waited even longer to have children.

Case in point. I got married at twenty-six and had my first child at thirty-two. Conversely, my father was married at nineteen and I came into the world when he was just twenty-one.

This comparison explains why Baby Boomers raised their children at a time when their own parents were much younger, more vigorous, and more independent than those of Generation X.

Once again, my own family is an example.

Due to some unfortunate health issues, my father is partially paralyzed and struggles mightily with his health. Furthermore, my mother has debilitation migraines that put her down for several days at a time.

She commented the other day, “We are only sixty, but we struggle to get around as if we’re eighty.” Sadly, it’s true.

As a result, one moment, I’m worrying about them. I want to take care of them should they no longer be able to care for themselves.

In the next moment, I’m writing a check for summer camp, my crying one-year-old is pulling on my pant leg, and I can’t shake that nagging feeling of guilt that I’m neglecting my quiet five-year-old.

These are tricky waters to navigate. The guidance of a mental health professional helps tremendously.    

But they cost out-of-pocket money.

And money has always been a problem for Generation X.

2. Financial Pressure

generation-x-characteristics

Credit Neon Brand – Unsplash

Midlife is an awkward financial season. Namely, because it’s a time in which you are carrying the full financial weight of raising dependent children, yet you’ve not worked long enough to get ahead.

Here’s how this is playing out in my own life:  

  • My regular, monthly expense of raising four children these days is quite hefty.  
  • My oldest son developed epilepsy three years ago which doubled our health care expenses.
  • My wife’s student loans aren’t close to being paid off.
  • I had an unforeseen job transition that cut our household income in half.   

While this financial situation is commonplace among midlife parents, the financial baggage that Generation X carried into it is anything but.  

Gregory Thomas summed up our financial journey best.

“Our entire life has been punctuated by economic disasters from the time we were born.” (quoted by Sara Scribner)

Here are a few haymakers Generation X has taken on the chin.

  • Generation X lost 45% of their wealth during the Great Recession, According to 2013 Pew Research. (Scribner )
  • We bore the brunt of the real estate collapse (Scribner)
  • Student loans that Generation X used to finance college were loaned at a much higher rate that what Baby Boomers were afforded. (JenX.com)
  • The Dot Com Boom and Bust (JenX.com)

Therefore, as Generation X staggers beneath the weight of the midlife financial burden, we do so while having a complete lack of confidence in the economy to be there for us when we need it most.

Because it’s  never been before.

This marriage of financial stress and family stress creates a perfect storm of pressure that calls for an accomplished level of coping skills

Generation X could use the anchor of affordable and available mental health services to ride out the storm.  

Instead, many crash on the rocks.

3. Midlife Crisis

generation-x-characteristics

Credit Cherry Laithang – Unsplash

Generation X has arrived at midlife crisis. We must proceed with caution.

In a paper published in 1965, Elliott Jaques, then 48 and a relatively unknown Canadian psychoanalyst and organizational consultant, coined the term “midlife crisis.” Jaques wrote that during this period, we come face-to-face with our limitations, our restricted possibilities, and our mortality. (Carlo Strenger and Arie Ruttenberg)

Strenger and Ruttenber go on to argue that midlife crisis has gotten a bit of a bad rap

In fact, they say, “Midlife is exciting because it is a time when people have the opportunity to reexamine even their most basic assumptions.”

While I agree that midlife crisis can certainly be a healthy step in the maturation process, it can also be an atomic bomb that vaporizes the family unit.  

It’s all in how you handle it. And successfully negotiating midlife crisis is no easy task.

Hannes Schwandt explains.    

“As we age, things often don’t turn out as nicely as we planned. We may not climb up the career ladder as quickly as we wished. Or we do, only to find that prestige and a high income are not as satisfying as we expected them to be.

At the same time, high expectations about the future adjust downwards. Midlife essentially becomes a time of double misery, made up of disappointments and evaporating aspirations.”

This insidious “double misery” is often painful enough to push midlifers to walk away from their marriage, their children, and their career. Often, such extreme decisions made during this time of mental volatility end in disaster.  

Fortunately, I’m now finding my way out of the fog of midlife crisis and can affirm it to be an enriching experience. But as one who has gone toe-to-toe with it, I got enough of a taste to know that surviving midlife crisis, with your sanity, your family, and your future intact is not for amateurs.

Seeing a counselor once a month during this time has helped me tremendously.

And no, he doesn’t take my health insurance.

4. Unresolved Childhood Issues of The Latchkey Generation. 

generation-x-characteristics

Credit Nick Faltermeier – Unsplash

I’m not a proponent using one’s childhood as a scapegoat for immature middle-age behavior. However, putting the microscope on one’s childhood is a necessary step on the journey to healthy self-discovery.

And Generation X has some unique childhood experiences to confront.

The Birth of the Latchkey Kids

“From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, divorce rates in the United States more than doubled. In addition, between 1969 and 1996, the number of working mothers in the workforce also doubled.

Consequently, many households were headed by working single moms. It’s estimated that as many as 40 percent of Gen Xers were latchkey kids who returned home from school to empty houses.

Their childhoods and youth were marked by a lack of supervision, and excessive household and family responsibilities.” (Jenx67.com)

For Generation X, not only were an unprecedented number of children dealing with splitting parents during their formative years, they were doing so while being left unsupervised for unhealthy lengths of time.  

JenX67.com explains the consequences.

“The pendulum swings wide on the consequences of the latchkey childhood. Unsupervised Gen X children and youth ran the gamut of those who watched too much TV and didn’t do their homework to those who fell into escalating levels of crime.

According to Coupland, inwardly-focused Baby Boomers sometimes regarded their children as “obstacles to their self-exploration,” and thus resulted permissive parenting of grand proportion.

In addition, on top of spending many hours bored and lonely, Coupland also concludes that Generation X was “rushed through childhood.”

Although I wasn’t a latchkey kid, many of my peers were and have the emotional baggage to prove it. As they now take on the crucial task of raising their own children, many of their unresolved childhood issues are surfacing and wreaking havoc on their parenting and marriages.  

These childhood stumbling blocks are by no means insurmountable. They are, however, complicated to untangle.

Trained mental health professionals would be glad to help out with this.

How much remains on your deductible?  

Conclusion

Every generation has their own challenges and triumphs. I’m by no means saying that we Gen-Xers have suffered more than any other generation past or present. What I am saying is that we have arrived at a critical, high-stakes juncture in life. And to proceed forward while taking our mental health for granted is a grave mistake.

Family and financial pressure, midlife crisis, and unresolved childhood issues, when stirred into the cauldron of emotional ignorance creates a deadly and unconscionable potion.

And while it would be just great if our legislators woke up and allocated an appropriate amount of tax dollars to meet the ever-rising demand for mental health services, I’m not holding my breath.

Nor should you.

What you should do, especially if you are one of the 50 million born between 1960-1980, is Google “counselors near me” and go talk to one next week.

Even if you have to cancel dinner reservations at your favorite restaurant to do so.

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