There’s been a lot said about mental illness on Twitter this weekend. I’ve found it hard, as there were yet again comments from supposedly intelligent people, that completely compounded the stigma that exists behind mental illness. It’s an illness that you can’t see, therefore much easier to suggest is not there. It is much easier to misdiagnose or not diagnose at all than a physical illness.
Now I don’t know if there is a mental health crisis amongst our young people or not. I hope that there isn’t, but across the 15 years I have worked in one school, I have noticed a significant increase in the amount of young people being treated for eating disorders and those having to be hospitalised for mental issues that put them in danger. I’ve also had to support with the aftermath of a student’s suicide. I’m not an expert, none of this is based in ‘fact’ this is what I see as a teacher, on the frontline day to day.
It is not all about depression and anxiety, mental illness takes many forms, something that seems to have been forgotten this weekend. It’s not all caused by the stress of exams or Sats. Anyone, for example with their own children, can see the terrible pressure that is put on teenagers to strive for the airbrushed perfection in magazines or television. I’ve spent hours and hours trying to persuade my own daughter that these images aren’t real and that a ‘thigh gap’ is not a plausible reality. That’s not a pressure from schools, that’s society. But it can result in a terrifying mental illness, where parents and loved ones have to watch their children literally fading away. My colleagues and I, like many others around the country, have provided work for students who end up in hospital, too weak to actually attend school. And then there are those that we know are clearly suffering, but with cuts in funding, just aren’t able to access support.
There are also many mental illness that take years to diagnose. It’s not as cut and dry as tonsillitis, cancer or a heart murmur. It also isn’t necessarily caused by external influences, many mental illness, like physical illnesses have their roots in imbalances in organs of the body – the brain.
As mentioned in a previous post, I have clinical depression and have access to the IAPT service. From conversations with staff there, I know that they are struggling to cope with the under 18s that they are now seeing in an adult service, because there is nowhere else for them to go. CAMHS are almost non-existent now and certainly only the most severe cases will get looked at, and even then there is a long waiting list. It is clearly a real problem. The people working in it say that it’s a problem. I’m a great believer that you should listen to people and their stories.
But in amongst all the comments this weekend, something struck me. A 14 year old girl messaged me. She had read the comments, saw me being on the ‘mental health’ side and told me her story. She is 14 and in need of a diagnosis for a serious mental health issue. CAMHS have let her down and basically told her that she will either have to wait until she is 18 and be diagnosed as an adult or go private. She, at 14, knows that this is because they haven’t got the resources to support her, and feels like she is being palmed off and there is nowhere for her to go. She will have 4 years of this before she is able to get the support she needs. And by no stretch of the imagination is she the only one.
So that got me thinking, perhaps this is the real issue. Perhaps the statistics say that it is not happening because there are children like this, who aren’t part of any statistic, whereas they would have been a few years ago, before funding was cut. Perhaps there is almost a group of ‘lost children’ who won’t appear in any statistics, until they reach adulthood. There lies in, I think the danger of relying wholly on statistics. Perhaps we should question whether there is know a group of children who, a few years ago would have appeared on statistics and now wouldn’t. And I tell you what, after speaking to this one young person, let’s not make comments that in anyway insult them, or belittle them. They are intelligent beings too.
The last thing I want to mention is ‘mindfulness.’ I use mindfulness as part of my treatment. I was skeptical at first, but actually it has ended up being the most important part of how I personally deal with my illness and guess what, it’s free. I do it at home, it costs nothing. It’s a way for me to switch off my brain and in my case, attempt to silence the very dangerous thoughts that can interrupt my day to day life. I don’t ‘bring on’ these thoughts myself. My illness is there, all the time.
And yet, I found that it was criticised this weekend for having its roots in religion. So what? If it is something that some people find useful then so what? Does it matter to the rest of the world? Medication is there and it is great for some, but it comes with horrific side effects, which often need to be dealt with too. I deal with the dangerous thoughts by having a few minutes a day where I attempt to block them out and instead listen to soothing sounds and focus on them instead. That’s my choice. Is it a fact that it works? Well, I haven’t killed myself, so possibly yes. That stark enough for you?
Yes, I do think that learning to take a few minutes out of a stressful day, in whatever form that takes can be a good thing for many people. Should we teach our young people to do it, possibly yes. I am under no allusions that life for a teenager in 2016, with the constant noise of technology is completely different to this 41 year old’s childhood. Do I advocate using mindfulness in schools, possibly, possibly not, but I think it is something that would be incredibly difficult to analyse as to whether it had an effect or not. Crucially, I know of nowhere where teachers are being forced either to participate or teach. If I’m wrong then please let me know.
I wouldn’t criticise the way that people deal with a physical illness and I certainly wouldn’t tell a cancer patient that they shouldn’t choose a certain treatment. Yet it is ok to do this with mental illness. It’s is an illness that by its very definition means that it is invisible. There is still not enough known about it to create lots of true facts and statistics, and this means that it is still surrounded in stigma. Try living with that stigma and having people who know very little, thrusting their opinions on you about the treatment that you as an individual should choose.
This blog post isn’t designed to perpetuate an argument. It is simply designed to express my personal viewpoint, and in particular I wanted to somehow get that young girl’s story heard. It’s not lots of statistical facts, it is opinion. Personally, I’m a great believer that we should always listen to each other, we should question everything and, most of all, although I’m not sure some would agree with me, we should be kind.