Nearly 10 years ago, I remember sitting in one of my English Literature classes at a private university and watching a portion of the movie titled The Hours (2002) - a story of three women searching for more meaningful lives - on the projector screen. The course, if memory serves right, primarily examined women's places in society.
In one instance, the classroom filled with, at first, a mumble of coveted laughter then a full-on raucous. Because the third or final year students found an intimate scene between two women extremely funny.
The screening ended. The lecturer turned to the class and called out the students. She said, poignantly, "I am not saying that you should watch this movie with your parents and have a conversation with them about it. But why are you snickering? What makes you find this funny?"
That stuck. Not what the lecturer said to the class and how she was disappointed in their response. But the fact she made the distinction between our and our parents' generation. They, after all, come from a different time and upbringing. Some topics are, in fact, more difficult than others to address and discuss with parents; that is of course, if you even have a good-natured, open relationship with your parents to begin with.
Everything starts at home
Approximately 20 years ago, I was in school. On the first day of a new school year, the class teacher would call out our names and ask a set of generic questions. "What does your father do? What do you want to be when you grow up?" etc. In between all the "doctor, engineer, lawyer" answers to the second question, most of my classmates (some odd 25 in number) would say they don't know what their father does. I felt proud. Because when it was my turn, without losing a beat, I was able to say out loud my father's job title and his company's name.
Trivial sure, but at that moment, it felt like a huge deal. I credited our family dinner conversations and thought that my peers must live in some other-worldly homes where they don't speak to their parents, particularly their fathers. Of course, not every detail of my family life was rosey. Perhaps a different article about how silence about difficult topics was birthed and then harboured.
But for the most part, we spoke a lot about everyday life.
Generational gap became more pronounced with age. But we held on our own. Once adulthood kicked in, so did awareness about mental health. I suppose one of the best explanations I came across about how we should perceive mental health is that it is just as important as physical health. And so, if we go to doctors to recover from broken bones, then we should also recognise the need to seek professional help to take care of our mental health.
But that continues to be lost on so many of us in the 21st century. Let alone our parents' generation.
But with more time, we (millennials) started to understand more the value of mental health and seeking therapy saw an upsurge in Dhaka city - at least for those who are fortunate enough to afford it (not yours truly). As we became older and understood a little bit more the complexities of the human mind, its ripple effects and the evergreen issue of how unresolved issues transcends time, I - probably just like you - started to think, what if our parents went to therapy?
Trauma we carry and pass on
Intergenerational trauma, unresolved anger and toxic behaviour trickle down generations, unabashedly. And the children, with no fault of their own, are the ones who stand to suffer the most from their parents' shortcomings.
One of the more popular sentiments that we tend to hold dear is that parents are like gods, not to be questioned and loved unconditionally. While that is all dandy on hallmark cards and social media posts on international days celebrating mothers and fathers, it does not quite hold water in reality.
The damage that we inherently incur because of our parents' poor state of mental health is wide and deep.
I remember how a friend told me during one of our tnt phone conversations that she was upset and called out her father on how he treated her mother in one instance. We were teenagers at the time. And that stuck too.
We should encourage a culture where children, young and old, call out their parents for their faults and flaws so that we can make amends and collectively benefit from improved relationships.
Parents can be wrong. Parents are also human. And there is no love lost if you choose to have a conversation with them to point out how their behaviour, actions or words are affecting you adversely.
What if our parents went to therapy?
And this brings me to the hypothetical idea. What if they went to therapy? If mental healthcare was accessible and affordable, and stigma-free, if parents went and spoke about their own trauma, unresolved childhood issues - would their children have lived better lives? I know, I know, there's a lot of ifs in this hypothetical, but if reason were to dictate our predictions, then yes, children and next generations would have lived better lives.
Mental health is no joke. And unlike your parents, there are more options available - albeit still limited - for mental healthcare. Please seek it, break cycles of the toxic brown culture of silence and intergenerational trauma, especially if you are a parent or plan to be one.
On this year's International Day of Families (May 15) - yet another Hallmark card moment - perhaps we can take a moment and think about the prevention measures we can take to spare those who come after us the damage and trauma from our own shortcomings. This is not to say therapy is a catch-all solution to the problems of our minds, but it is a step in the right direction.
So even if our parents could not go to therapy, it does not mean we can't.