Baby Boomers - a New Marmite Test?

10/10/2013 15:00 BST | Updated 10/12/2013 10:12 GMT

The marmite test - supposedly, either you love it or loathe it. Baby boomers - these days it seems are a good example of the test; if you aren't one of them, you are railing against them for still enjoying the "high" life (pardon the pun, though perhaps true in some case) while subsequent generations suffer as a result.

I'm happy to confess that I'm one of them, though born in the second wave (late 1950s to early 1960s) so I don't have much in common with those born from 1945 through to the early 1950s. I was five years old in the "swinging sixties" when the first wave were teenagers or in their twenties. It just goes to show that stereotyping or generalising about the baby boomers isn't very clever.

As well as being a boomer I'm interested in how changes in society may impact on people's mental health, both individually and collectively. Are the boomers are all sailing into later life with a warm feeling inside, as if the party was just beginning to wind down? Maybe some, but what many people forget is that the baby boomers also lived through the 1980s and for many, especially those who lived and worked in areas dominated by the rapidly disappearing heavy industries and large scale manufacturing, they were difficult times with individual lives, families and communities scarred by the changes that took place. Others in the baby boomer generation also didn't fare so well for reasons beyond their control, and consequently their health, including their mental health, maybe more at risk as they grow old. We know that there is a link between mental health and socio-economic inequalities so policies that are successful at reducing inequalities have the potential for having a positive impact on this group. If the boomers were still having a party in the 1980s, a lot of them were forced to leave early or not in the mood for it.

Even if you are still thriving, age is the greatest risk factor for developing long term illnesses and disabilities in later life, including depression and dementia. They are not inevitable components to ageing but the longer you live the more likely they are to occur. All the usual stuff about leading healthy lives may offset the risk a little but the stark truth is that healthy life expectancy (the time we spend without illnesses and disabilities) is lagging further and further behind general life expectancy - it's going to be tough for many boomers.

But boomers are also a bit more savvy about mental health, and a bit more willing to seek help for mental health problems than their parent's generation. They are rich in resources - some, but not all, in material resources - but also less obvious resources accumulated through life experience, such as vocational, social and psychological. If ways can be found of tapping into this it may provide some solutions to the challenges of growing older, what could be called 'care capital'. Don't get me wrong, this is not an advert for the "Big Society" because I firmly believe that those of us who care shouldn't give up on trying to secure sufficient resources for services and interventions that improve older people's mental health, but some of the solutions can be found within this generation.

If some solutions can be identified for this group they are likely to be of benefit for subsequent generations. I'm told that the second wave of baby boomers that I'm part of is nicknamed "Generation Jones", to denote our supposed envy and frustration with our older peers for all the fun they had that we missed out on - personally I would rather sort out some of the challenges we all face in later life rather than simply wishing I was 10 years older.

And, for what it's worth, I quite like Marmite, but it becomes unpalatable if you have too much of it - just like the endless stereotyping of the baby boomers.