Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mental health crisis amongst young people?

Sami Timimi (2022), who I’ve mentioned before (see eg. previous post), provides a very helpful contribution to the Psychological Medicine debate about whether antidepressants and ECT are the answer to depression (see eg. last post). What I want to pick up on is what he says about the effect of  ‘desigmatisation’ campaigns on helping people, particularly young people, identify their mental health problems (see previous post). 

Encouraging young people and their families to talk about their problems has created, as Sami says, “a disastrous tsunami … to sweep them away”. He goes on:-

Young people, their parents, and their teachers [have] developed an awareness that ‘illnesses’ like depression are all around us, and you could be one of those affected. … You start to notice how bad you feel sometimes and wonder why you feel like this. Could it be that you are developing a mental disorder?

Sami references a very good Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘Young, British and Depressed’, in which he appeared. He quotes figures from a survey undertaken for the programme. 68% of young people thought they have had or are currently experiencing a mental health problem. Of those, 62% thought that ‘de-stigmatisation’ campaigns helped them to identify it. Do the majority of young people really have a mental health problem? Surely it’s not meaningful to frame the emotional problems of young people in this way. As Sami says, “This alienation from, and fear of, … emotional turmoil … is the terrifying result of … [a] moral panic about mental health”. He goes on:-

The scene has been perfectly set up for transforming the challenges, confusions, intensity, and changes that happen as we grow and develop, particularly in our adolescent years, into potential obstacles, dysfunctions, dysregulations, and disorders, that can be neatly packaged and given ‘treatments’ to get rid of them.

The mental health system is clearly not functioning for young people. To quote again from Sami, “The perseverative call for more resources is the standard juvenile political response to the chaos our incoherent logic has caused”. Let’s hope the current national review of mental health strategy (see Call for evidence) does something about this situation. Mental health services need to be transformed and the aim to expand them needs to be rethought. Everyone, and perhaps particularly young people, are suffering because of this cultural process to create panaceas for emotional problems. They don’t always work and may create more problems than they are worth. Mental health is too important to leave to the professionals alone.

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