X Marks the Spot on Mental Health

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 80% of suicides in the US are among men and women in Gen X. As we know, May is all about mental health awareness. Every generation needs attention on this critical topic at work. However, I want to shine a brighter spotlight on Gen X, the often forgotten or ignored generation.

Let’s start with a little generational background… Being a member of Gen X myself and a generational expert, I am often asked why Xers are ignored or not talked about as much. The biggest reason is pure demographics. The Baby Boomers, the generation before Gen X, hover at 80 million in size. The Millennials, the generation after Gen X, are about 78 million in size. The challenge is that Gen X is dramatically smaller, at 60 million. So, from a marketer’s perspective, it makes sense to go after the larger generations to sell goods and services. I am also asked why Gen X is so much smaller. There are two main forces that caused a dip in Gen X’s population. The first is the invention of the birth control pill, and the second is that it was an era where women really started to flood the workplace and were forced to decide between a career and having a family.

Now let’s return to May and mental health awareness. It’s one thing to ignore Gen X when selling something, but it’s another to do so when supporting them. Currently, as Boomers retire, or try to, there is a lot of conversation around their mental well-being because retirement is not what they want it to be. No surprise there, as the generation that has always rebelled against aging is not heading to a porch swing to swig Metamucil all day. So much of their identity has been tied to their work roles that it is only natural to struggle as they approach this life stage. Then there are Millennials and even Gen Z. There has been even more conversation around mental health awareness, and much thanks to them. They should truly be applauded for putting attention on mental health in the workplace. This is something many Boomers and Xers would not have felt comfortable doing, as they were told to leave their lives at the door and show up and work from 9 am to 5 pm. Millennials lead the way with the concept of a “mental health day,” and now, with everything from the fallout of the pandemic to a shaky economy, layoffs, and more, they are fighting to keep the conversation and attention on this critical topic going. It is not news that these younger generations not only accept mental health benefits but also expect them.

So that brings me to Gen X. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 80% of suicides in the US are among men and women in Gen X. People are shocked to hear this because I think most believe it affects the younger generations.

While there are obviously many factors that impact mental health, something to realize is the life stage that Gen X is in. For years and years, as I have lectured around the world, the Baby Boomers were coined the “sandwiched generation.” Leaders were told to beware of this to avoid Boomers burning out and checking out. Well, they have passed this “sandwiched” baton to Gen X, and yet, no one realizes it. It is now the Xers that are sandwiched. Their parents, who were the vulnerable population during the pandemic and beyond, require help. On the other side of the sandwich are Gen X parents who not only still have kids in school or college dependent on them but also many Gen X women had children later in life and may even be taking care of elementary school-aged kids.

If all the conversation around mental health awareness is directed towards the younger generations or even the Boomers, my concern is that we are not helping the generation of workers that might be suffering even more.