I am a baby boomer (1946–1964) and my children were born in 1987 and 1990. As I was growing up I carefully hid my depression and I was good at it. When my children were born I believed they would grow up with the best mental health on the planet due to the psychological insights I had gained and my superb parenting skills. Not so. On the contrary, my children also hid their internal world. When I looked at my children’s friends in the 1990s I observed this same pattern in them as well. In my twenties, I also realised I was not alone in hiding my inner turmoil. People in families and community groups in my city were struggling with childhood wounds which they began to say were somehow directly related to the growing number of their fractured relationships, and of course, divorce. Not to mention clinical depression and suicide.
Lisa Appignanesi’s brilliant book, Mad, Bad and Sad: A history of women and the mind doctors from 1800 to the present, rigorously explored mental health, including how mental health-related madness, criminality, violence, and depression, are defined differently by culture at different times in human history. She investigates (among other things) the value, no value or ‘the jury is out’, regarding talking therapies, ‘chemical factors,’ the variety of available therapies, traditional therapies, Big Pharmaceuticals, ECT, ‘evidence base’, and the recent rise of depression.
I have come to the conclusion there is a missing piece to the jigsaw puzzle of mental health for baby boomers born around World War II and Gen Z, those born in 1997–2015. I am proposing that we are all children of trauma no matter what generation you sit in and we need to become a grieving culture which means a collective change in how we engage with emotional pain and how we bring up our children in relation to that pain. Collective change happened when cigarettes were exposed as being a catalyst for cancer and detrimental to bodily health. Collective change happened when people said no to the slave trade. Recently, collective change happened when we wore masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
I am not saying collective change is or will be the panacea for our mental health, but I believe it will push us in the right direction and take us into healing areas we have not been before. Also, collective change must have a long term vision. Regarding lessons from the ‘growing psychiatric and psychological imperium’ over the last two hundred years, Lisa Appignanesi said it: ‘should make us sceptical of any single “therapy” suiting all situations for more than a brief period.’
My reflection is that while some therapies have had merit and still do, it seems to me we are recycling mental health issues because there is a piece missing in the jigsaw puzzle of confronting these problems. And I will only believe there is a change in our mental health systems when there is a change of culture where we become a grieving society. One in which there is a movement towards engagement with our trauma across the board rather than trauma denial.
People reading this may say: ‘but aren’t there big changes in our mental health system?’ My answer is that yes of course there have been changes and good ones at that. However, the essential stumbling blocks are still there and people are suffering unnecessarily.
I decided to make a fictional story into a film to express what you have just read in this article. It is my conviction the world has stopped crying, which is a metaphor for society being out of touch with its pain.
Vincent Tivoli is a mental health advocate.