Echoes of the Past: Generation X, Mental Health & Nostalgia


Layla Team

March 20, 2024

From analog to digital, from vinyl records to CDs, and from rotary phones to smartphones - this generation has lived through an era of remarkable change. They grew up eagerly awaiting the debut of television classics like "Happy Days," "MAS*H", and "The X-Files. Their youth is defined by bands and music that resonated deeply. Born between 1965 and 1980, nestled between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, Generation X experienced the shift from single to dual-income households and was at the forefront of witnessing several significant socio-economic transformations. Their formative years, characterized by independence, adaptability, and the necessity for resourcefulness has influenced their perspectives and experiences, especially in the realm of mental health. This post aims to understand the experience of Gen Xers through a mental well-being lens. 

A Unique Era: The Gen X Experience 

Generation X grew up during times of pronounced economic fluctuations, technological advancements, and evolving family structures. Yet, in a climate of change, they discovered resonance and comfort in the narratives of films like “The Breakfast Club" and “Reality Bites”, which echoed the current dynamics of evolving identities amidst a changing family structure. This era witnessed a surge in dual-income households and rising divorce rates, leading to a significant number of Gen X youth to look after themselves more frequently. The normalcy of returning home to empty houses after school is what earned this generation the nickname “the latchkey kids”. This is not only a label but a shared experience that underscores the early independence and responsibility instilled from a young age. 

Compared to Millennials and Gen Z, Generation X is not tied to digital forms of information such as social media or networking technologies. Gen Xers tend to learn about topics and services through various sources such as medical journals, healthcare interactions, personal conversations, and reputable online sources. Despite being the pioneers of the internet age, Gen Xers approach their quest for information with a level of skepticism, critically assessing rather than automatically accepting expert opinions.

The foundational experiences of hyper independence along with growing up in a time marked by significant transition can undoubtedly have an impact on this generation’s mental health experience.

As voiced by Psychologist Dr. K. Batcho, “It (change) is very difficult to grasp, because in some sense, at a very deep psychic level, change threatens us” 

The Mental Health Landscape of Generation X

The mental health landscape for Generation X is intricate, shaped by personal experiences and a dynamic historical context. As a result of barriers to access and societal perceptions, this generation historically encountered difficulties in accessing mental health services. They witnessed pivotal shifts in mental health discussions, from stigmatization and extreme treatments to now a broader recognition of mental health and the need for services as part of holistic healing, which can complicate the comprehension and management of mental health. 

To add further complexity to mental health for this generation, they have actually learned to defer their emotional needs. Gen X was raised in an era that prioritized adult concerns as the social and economic norms shifted, but as they entered into adulthood and parenthood, there was a shift to the focus of children’s mental health. As such, this cohort has undoubtedly had to develop a strong resilience. 

Positive Reminiscence: The Power of Nostalgia 

Positive nostalgia is a sentimental longing for one’s past, which is established as a source of comfort amidst social, existential, or personal threats. This form of nostalgia, which focuses on recalling positive memories, serves as a pivotal means of comfort and connection. Generation X, deeply influenced by media consumption, including what they watched and listened to, their connection to music, television, and entertainment offered a unique form of solace and connection during periods of uncertainty, endowing them with a distinct capacity to tap into nostalgia. However, nostalgia for Gen Xers extends beyond reminiscing over episodes of “Saved by the Bell” or the unforgettable sound of a dial up internet connection. It involves reflective appreciation and connecting to an identity and values that seemed more distinct in the midst of simpler times. Tapping into nostalgia can create a more relatable and effective therapeutic environment, acknowledging the cultural experiences of Gen X to facilitate a strong client-therapist rapport.

The Role of Nostalgia in Mental Health 

Properly utilized, nostalgia can evoke a sense of safety and connection through cherished memories. It is not about living in the past, but revisiting moments of it that evoke positive emotions. Nostalgia encourages us to connect to our authentic self and explore what brings meaning to our lives, which is a core focus of many therapies. For Generation X who have grown up navigating personal and societal shifts, positive nostalgia fosters social and cultural connections that tie to our emotional regulation system. Such a sense of connection can offer a calming effect. Think about nostalgia being similar to the DeLorean in “Back to the Future” in that nostalgia allows us to transport back to moments of the past associated with positive memories to reconnect with oneself. For a generation known for its resilience and independence, but also for its deep connections to cultural milestones, nostalgia can be a therapeutic tool to leverage sources of comfort and meaning. 

Patience in the Process: Gen X Tips for Finding the Right Therapist 

  • Be patient, find the right fit: Gen Xers are known for their patience and discernment, which can serve them well in finding the right provider. Every therapist offers something different. Allowing oneself the time to explore therapist approaches and differences can ensure a connection to the right therapist based on one’s mental health needs and preferences.
  • Skepticism as an Asset: Generation X can leverage their innate skepticism to engage in a deeper evaluation of therapist approaches and strengths to seek out a therapist who understands their personal experiences and can offer a personalized approach. 
  • Feeling Understood: Generation X experiences are complex and multi-layered. While your therapist doesn’t have to be of the same generational cohort as you, inquire about what they understand of the mental health and lifestyle nuances of this generation. Understanding how to address the unique experiences the client holds in order to strengthen the therapeutic rapport is foundational to the therapy experience. 
  • Bring an Analytical lens to Technology Services: Generation X has experienced the full impact of all technological advances and understands how to critique technology. For Gen Xer’s considering virtual therapy support, be selective about online therapy platforms and digital mental health tools, prioritizing those with proven effectiveness and privacy safeguards.

The Role of Therapy for Generation X 

  • Understanding Generational Impacts: While Generation X’s have an innate ability to be resourceful in times of challenge, therapy can help in gaining a deeper understanding of how transitions and change can impact our mindset, emotions, and responses.
  • Facing Challenges in a Collaborative Space: While independence is a strength of Generation X, facing stressors alone can heighten emotions and distress. Collaboration in therapy can offer support through complex emotions and life challenges, fostering a strong connection and space for growth. 
  • Personal Growth, Healing and Exploration: While generational experiences are part of someone’s story, they don’t overshadow an individual’s unique narrative. Therapy remains a crucial space for delving into one’s personal story, addressing specific emotions, and confronting individual challenges.

The Mental Health Journey 

No matter the generational cohort, an individual's age range or era does not define one's mental health state or challenges. However, the collective experiences of a generation do play a role within the therapy experience. For Generation X, their mental health journey may be intertwined with their unique life experiences, values, and the significant societal changes they've witnessed. Therapy that acknowledges these aspects can offer meaningful support, meeting Gen Xers where they are and guiding them in their mental health journey. 

- Facing mental health challenges? Layla is here to help - Individuals, couples, and families use Layla for personalized, convenient therapy. Layla matches you to a suitable therapist and manage the therapy process in a warm, dependable manner, supporting you on your journey to better health. Learn more here

- New to therapy? Here's your beginner guide - Starting therapy can evoke feelings of vulnerability, but knowing what to expect can help. The journey is individualized, with no exact right or wrong way. During the first session, typically administrative matters are discussed, goals are set, and you and your therapist will get to know each other. Fit between you and you therapist is very important for your outcomes, and it's okay to switch if the fit isn't right. Therapy is adjusted to your timeline and constraints, and can range from weekly to monthly sessions. Reflecting on what you wish to accomplish can guide the process 


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Does nostalgia have a psychological purpose? With Krystine Batcho, PhD. On Speaking of Psychology [Podcast Transcript].

Fleury, J., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Coon, D. W., & Komnenich, P. (2022). Feeling Safe and Nostalgia in Healthy Aging. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 843051.

Jordan, J. (n.d.). Generation X: Why We Deserve New Branding [Video]. TEDxUniversityofDelaware. 

Lee, J. (2023). Gen X and Gen Z interaction in the Therapeutic Alliance, and the use of RCT to mediate conflict. team, & Bear, B. (2024, February 12). Gen X and mental health. 

Cangelosi, J. (2020). Comparison of millennials, generation X, and baby boomers attitudes toward preventive health information: A social media emphasis.