From Prince Harry's 20 year fight with mental health, Lady Gaga's PTSD, to J.K. Rowling's battle with depression, there are no shortage of high-profile figures raising awareness of mental health illnesses. Of course there is also the tragic awareness of adorned celebrities such as Alexander McQueen and Robin Williams, who both took their own lives to escape their mental health demons.
Suicide in men aged between 20 and 49 is a bigger killer than cancer, road accidents or heart disease. Or as Poorna Bell explains, "if you are a man, the thing most likely to kill you, if you are under 45, is yourself". Poorna, HuffPost UK's Executive Editor, was referring to her husband who committed suicide following a life-long battle with depression since childhood.
Depression affects more children and young people today than in the last few decades. Post-traumatic stress disorder in children can follow physical or sexual abuse and even severe bullying. Separation anxiety can affect very young children starting or moving schools. Whilst generalised anxiety disorder can cause young people to become extremely worried. Reading this may create two thoughts for many parents; 'will this happen to my child?' which is a preventative thought, whilst 'what support is available if it does?' is a question of management.
The answer to these questions depends largely on where you live and therefore what services are available locally. Some schools have volunteer or pastoral support, others have neither. Your GP's advice will also depend on their locally-available referral services. Either way, parents and carers will be referred to the multidisciplinary teams of Children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) - which has struggles of its own. As research carried out by charity YoungMinds shows, in 2016/17 around half of CCGs in England will spend the extra money allocated for CAMHS on other priorities.
Managing mental health difficulties is (more often than not) going to be a tougher challenge than prevention. Mental health education is just one topic within the Government's Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) program. Whilst section 2.5 of the national curriculum states that 'all state schools should make provision for PSHE, drawing on good practice', PSHE is a non-statutory subject. The PSHE Association website also states "Teaching about mental health and emotional wellbeing raises significant challenges for teachers". An unsurprising statement.
Our own independent research shows how teaching staff create a myriad of DIY solutions to encourage children to disclose their anxieties; Worryboxes (decorated shoe boxes) invite children to post worries, Worrybooks - essentially a scrap book for children to write worries (that friends, and foes, can read too), and 'circle time' where children are encouraged to tell the entire class their worries. Whilst these offline approaches are welcomed, they present accessibility challenges for some children. I fear that the PSHE program may lead to trained teachers and support staff to make more 'educated guesses' for tackling mental health.
Based upon my experience with psychometric profiling (educator's will know it as Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences), there are many types of personalities, each dealing with the world in different ways. From risk-averse peacekeepers to dominant troubleshooters, these introvert, extrovert-based characteristics define themselves in childhood and I believe effect how children either share (or hold on to) their anxieties. Whilst this is a subject for another article, the point being that there are many and various reasons why children may not feel comfortable starting a verbal conversation. As mentioned in my previous blog about Prince Harry's mental health difficulties, some children will struggle to muster the courage to talk about their fears and anxieties. Therefore we need to give them innovative tools (like The Worrinots app) that empower them with knowledge and confidence to start a conversation when they want to.
Celebrities such as Zayn Malik and Zoella aren't afraid to use digital tools (such as Twitter and YouTube) to communicate their own mental health struggles. I hope that this encourages their young audiences to use innovative digital tools to do the same.