There was a time when young children were allowed to be children.
Primary school was about learning how to play, have fun and make friends. Happy children are more likely to learn and make the world a better place than unhappy ones.
Childhood hasn’t been cancelled exactly, but it is under extreme attack, as I’ve written before (“Suffer little children”). Today's subjects: stress, self-harm, suicide.
This week saw the launch of a campaign for universal access to school-based counselling services.
Reports the story in Schools Week: “A motion being put to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference in Liverpool, which calls for better promotion of mental health awareness in schools and a campaign for all pupils in England to have access to a counsellor, is expected to pass with the backing of the union’s leadership.”
There is certainly a need:
• One in five children have symptoms of depression and almost a third of the 16-25-year-olds surveyed had thought about or attempted suicide. In Ireland, children as young as five are thinking of suicide.
• A World Health Organisation survey in 2014 revealed a fifth of 15-year-olds in England said they had self-harmed over the previous year.
• An ATL union survey of its own members revealed that 48 per cent of respondents had pupils who had self-harmed, and 20 per cent knew pupils who had attempted suicide “because of the pressure they are under”.
General secretary Mary Bousted said it was “horrifying” that so many young people many are self-harming and contemplating suicide.
Increase paperwork until standards improve!
There is more testing, more homework, and it starts earlier. (Homework for 5-year-olds? Really?). Teachers are overworked and underappreciated (and underpaid), frantically trying to get results, write up reports, check all the boxes and generally enact the latest keep-up-with-China government initiative, all set against a backdrop of cuts in funding and services and in many cases financial hardship at home. The creative, nurturing, qualitative skill of teaching has been turned into a bureaucratic, morale-sapping, quantitative exercise in stress, low-grade trauma and Ofsted reports, one that kills joy in the classroom, erodes resilience and is creating a whole new generation of children who as adults will be susceptible to mental and physical ill-health.
There are roughly 200 governments around the world—200 education policies (or lack thereof), 200 places to look for examples of good ideas and bad ones, 200 petri dishes.
Why fawn over China—do we really want to look to an undemocratic communist government with a terrible human rights record for child-rearing tips? How about looking instead to the more relaxed approach of the Scandinavian countries, especially Finland, where education is free, safe and friendly, school starts at age 7, teachers are allowed to teach, and children are allowed to be children rather than treated as future economic units. Finland’s less-is-more education system has been described as the best in the world.
Mental-health difficulties are the leading causes of disability worldwide—almost a third of people globally will experience mood, anxiety or substance-use problems in their lifetime. The best antidote is a happy childhood.
As noted philosopher Whitney Houston put it:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride
Britain's top psychiatrist challenges Government
Following on from his rather rosy picture of mental health services in the U.K. last week, this week Simon Wessely, Britain’s top psychiatrist, has challenged the Government to ring-fence spending for mental health:
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), said that claims from a former health minister that the new standards – the core recommendation of a recent landmark report – have no funding to back them up, were “crushingly disappointing”.
As revealed in The Independent, Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat’s health spokesperson who served as care minister in the Coalition government, has been told by senior NHS England officials that there is no guaranteed funding to implement a set of new waiting times standards for treatment of a wide range of mental health conditions by 2020.
Holyrood 2016: Parties set out mental health plans
Politicians have been setting out their plans to boost mental health services ahead of the Holyrood election.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon pledged to "transform" mental health care in Scotland if her party is re-elected.
The Liberal Democrats said they would introduce a mental health "rapid reaction force".
Meanwhile, the Tories claimed Labour was in a "state of civil war", and Labour accused the SNP of "hypocrisy" over council budget cuts.
'Mental health' issues lead to soaring levels of sick days in the civil service
Soaring levels of stress, anxiety and depression have been reported in the over-stretched civil service, which has led to a rise in the number of sick days taken by staff.
The leap in absences has sparked concern about the general mental health of the Whitehall workforce.
Absences classified as “mental health” now account for 28 per cent of all sick days taken at the Department of Health compared to 15 per cent in 2011, claims figures revealed in the House of Commons.
Other departments also reported a rise in days off “due to mental disorders”, like the Communities and Local Government Department, which saw the figure rise from 18.3 per cent in 2011 to 32.8 per cent now.
Beyoncé: 'Women have to take time to focus on our mental health'
A throwaway line becomes a news story when it is uttered by Beyoncé. Here’s the line:
"We have to care about our bodies and what we put in them. Women have to take the time to focus on our mental health—take time for self, for the spiritual, without feeling guilty or selfish."
Unusual marriage counseling retreats
PR Newswire (press release)
Is your marriage all at sea? In turbulent waters? Do you feel as if you are drowning? Maybe this boat in North Carolina could help. But what an unfortunate name! Even Boaty McBoatface would be better!
Love Odyssey Charters has announced that it is ready to start booking new marriage counseling retreats. They have re-launched their pilothouse sailboat "Dragon Lady" after its annual maintenance. The company offers an intensive marriage intervention service for couples seeking to revive their troubled relationships. More than a gimmick, the service is based on sound neuroscience according to Dr. Bryce Kaye, psychologist and author of the book "The Marriage First Aid Kit." He explains: "We keep them moving and out of their stuck roles. We sail them from port to port where they stay in quaint B&B's, explore the historic towns and enjoy the down-east restaurants. They are surrounded by beautiful natural scenery on the rivers and sounds of North Carolina. The marriage counseling retreats take place in a cozy teak-lined pilot house of a Finnish-made sailboat. All of this puts them into an exploratory state in which their minds are more receptive to new ideas."
Why words matter when it comes to mental health
It happens all the time. If not every day then at the very least several times a week. Someone describes someone else as a “nutter” or a situation as “mental”, and, listening, I am faced with a choice: to speak or not to speak.
It happens in the media too. And not just in tabloid headlines about “schizos”, “psychos” and so forth. In arts discussions on BBC Radio 4, I regularly hear the word “psychotic” used as a shorthand for lacking in conscience, or “schizophrenic”, when what is meant is in two minds.