Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Should the Mental Health of our Children be an Election Issue?

Below is the article on child mental health which I wrote for the Huff Post.  I haven't got around to putting it up on there yet, for various reasons (not least, apathy) and because it is linked in with the election I thought I might as well publish it here meanwhile - although here I am largely preaching to the converted.  Anyway, I didn't want it to go to waste.
Yesterday's blog post seemed to be a bit open-ended, waffling.  I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't want to be too precise - ie I didn't want to name the persons and situations that have recently upset me.  After I published the blog post, I clicked on Rossa Forbes' blog, Holistic Recovery from Schizophrenia, and to my delight I found several new posts on there that I hadn't realised existed.  Rossa had migrated from Blogger to Wordpress, and her new posts had not updated on my sidebar. It was a very welcome surprise to find them - anybody who has not read Rossa's blog recently really should. 
Anyway, here's the article:

Should the Mental Health of our Children be an Election Issue?

Child mental health seems to have become a bit of a buzz topic in the build-up to the general election.  ‘Vote for us and we’ll see that this is improved,’ all the main parties promise.  Is it appropriate though, to use child mental health as a bargaining chip?  Apart from anything else, how are these promises to be fulfilled?  When a new Government is formed, will there be enough counsellors and therapists in place to provide a better service?  If not, however much funding is allocated, things won’t change in a hurry.  Also, mental ill-health is notoriously difficult to treat.  I am not sure that pouring more money into the current system can ever really help, because psychiatry, which is based on a medical model, does not address the problem of what is wrong, of why the person, or the child, feels unable to cope.   

Parenting is hard and there is nothing worse than seeing your child suffer.   I think we, as parents, need to concentrate on preventing emotional distress, on bringing up our children to make them feel safe and to foster resilience in them.  I think it would be helpful to address the issue of why so many young people currently have mental health problems.  I honestly don’t think there was so much of it around when I was young – although personally I did have quite major difficulties.  Perhaps mental health issues were just not as visible then or maybe I didn’t notice the suffering of others because I was so wrapped up in my own troubles.  But self-harm, for instance, was certainly not as prevalent.   

It seems that society is much more child orientated these days.  When I was young, children seemed to be incidental to the lives of the adults around them, now they are central to their existence and this should be a good thing.  However, wanting the best for our kids and being concerned about their future lives means that often we can inadvertently put pressure on them.  Kids are very sensitive to the burden of parental expectations and as a parent it can be hard to find a balance. 

There are excellent grammar schools in our area and because my husband and I believe that a good education will give them more choices in life, we have helped our children to gain places in these institutions.  They have never struggled with their studies, perhaps because they are lucky, possibly also because we have brought them up to believe that they are capable.  And we don’t pressurise our kids at all – on the contrary, we assure them that even if they failed all their exams, things would still work out fine. 

I hold myself up as an example of someone who despite having a good degree has never held a professional job.  I am very happy to be a stay at home Mum (and now a writer too) but I am well aware that this would not work for everybody.  I do think, though that we should teach our kids that we have choices in life and always be positive and upbeat about the path we choose to follow.  Vicky Pryce (Chris Hume’s ex-wife) is a role model for working mothers.  ‘Don’t look back’, she said in a recent interview in The Times, ‘Don’t start feeling guilty, or you’re sunk’. 

I think all of us, as adults, should do our best to be good role models to our kids.  For a start, we could stop pursuing materialistic goals, show that we value ourselves for who we are, not for what we possess.  Yes, we all need to earn a living and there is pleasure to be had in a career and in the rewards it brings, but we need to find that elusive balance between work and leisure.  We need to value our relationships, to be kind to ourselves and to others.  We need to show our children that life is not a competition but a journey, a precious gift that can be and should be enjoyed.  Then our kids will grow to be strong, capable and resilient.  My hope is that as time goes on the current mental health system will require far less investment of public funds, not increasingly more.    



  1. I agree with your comment that pouring more money into the existing system may not help to improve mental health services in a meaningful way - paradigm shift required towards a more socially-orientated service model.
    Good luck with your book.

  2. Thanks Gary. I have just ordered a copy of yours, from Amazon and am very much looking forward to reading it. I love PCCS Books - I wish they would publish mine, but unfortunately my writing is not sufficiently academic. I'll just have to plug on down the self-pubbing route!