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“OK Boomer” and Mental Health Stigma


For all the times you might need to shrug off any unwanted opinions offered by people older than you, the internet has given us a new catchphrase.

Chances are you’ve heard of the “OK Boomer” phenomenon, but in case you haven’t, here’s Wikipedia’s summary:

The phrase “OK Boomer” is a pejorative retort used to dismiss or mock perceived narrow-minded, outdated, negatively-judgemental, or condescending attitudes of older people, particularly baby boomers.

What Wikipedia also says that I didn’t know is that the origins of the term come from a response to a video made by an older man saying that “millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up.”

MillennialsIn this context, it’s not hard to see why millennials enjoy have some kind of generational insult to throw back in the face of people who malign millennials with a broad brush. For millennials, it’s annoying when older people resort to lazy stereotyping about our generation.

As I’ve pointed out before, there seems to be some overlap between complaining about “kids these days” and complaining about the diagnosis of mental health conditions like ADHD.

People who say things like “ADHD isn’t real” or “the real problem is that parents aren’t disciplining their kids enough” or “people with ADHD need to stop making excuses and try harder” or “back in my day they didn’t have ADHD” are making stereotypical “OK Boomer” comments. These comments are condescending, out of touch, and ignorant of the advances in awareness and scientific understanding of mental health that have been made in the last several decades. When I envision someone railing online about how ADHD is a “fake diagnosis,” the person I imagine pounding away at their keyboard isn’t in my generation.

With that said, I don’t believe “OK Boomer” is the appropriate response to comments that stigmatize mental health conditions like ADHD.

There are a few reasons. The most basic is simply that it’s ageist to dismiss someone’s comments by referencing the generation they belong to. Fighting stereotypes by resorting to other stereotypes doesn’t really get us anywhere.

Besides that, dividing people up generationally is counterproductive because most issues affect people across generations. For example, “OK Boomer” is sometimes used to dismiss racist comments from older white people, but of course there are plenty of people in the baby boomer generation who have been affected by racism.

In the context of mental health stigma, this point is important. ADHDers in older generations are probably the least likely to be diagnosed, or the most likely to have been diagnosed late. These people have seen, if anything, more impact on their lives from ADHD than younger people. And some of them have become among the strongest advocates for ADHD awareness.

Now, I do think that, on average, younger generations are more mental health literate, although by no means are millennials free from stigmatizing people with mental health conditions. But whatever claims younger people can make about being more open to understanding mental health issues, it’s not because we’re innately superior to older generations – it’s because we are lucky to have been born in a time with unprecedented scientific understanding and public awareness of mental health conditions.

So next time I have to respond to an obnoxious comment from someone who wants to publicly demonstrate their total ignorance regarding psychology and mental health, you won’t see me using the phrase “OK Boomer,” even if that person does happen to be in an older generation.

The reason is that almost any relevant issue crosses generational lines. That includes issues that sometimes seem generational on the surface. For example, yes, it’s true that millennials and Ger Zers are starting our careers at a time of record high student loan debt and economic inequality, but it’s also true that a huge swath of baby boomers lack the financial resources to retire comfortably, or at all.

Anyway, the problem with stereotypes is that they usually turn out not be true. On the whole, millennials probably aren’t really raging narcissists and baby boomers are likely a lot more open to new technology than you’d think.

Millennials are rightly proud that we have fought against prejudices inherited from previous generations. So let’s maybe add ageism to the list of forms of discrimination we are trying to discontinue.

Image: Flickr/Trending Topics 2019

“OK Boomer” and Mental Health Stigma


Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at ADaptHD.com. He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog


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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). “OK Boomer” and Mental Health Stigma. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-millennial/2019/11/ok-boomer-and-mental-health-stigma/

 

Last updated: 26 Nov 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.