Sunday, January 07, 2024

What’s gone wrong with how we talk about young people’s mental health?

I’ve mentioned Lucy Foulkes before (see previous post). She has an article on Medium entitled ‘The adolescent mental health mess’. As she says, there is “concern that talking so much about mental health has meant milder problems are now confounded with mental disorders, and young people are diagnosing themselves with problems they don’t really have”. She fears that this has led to a backlash so that “all [her emphasis] young people who say they have mental health problems are now being treated with scepticism”. I agree with her that such polarisation is not helpful. Young people should not be prevented from asking for help with mental health problems if they need it.

But, young people do need to be given proper information about mental health. They need to be told that mental illness is not a brain disease (see eg. previous post). As I said in another previous post, young people need to learn that the brain is the origin of thoughts, emotions and behaviour, and to challenge their negative prejudices and not be frightened of mental illness. The way to do that, though, is not to make the misleading and oversimplistic statement that mental diseases, such as depression, are diseases of the brain.

Young people also need better information about the limits of any treatment, and more emphasis on psychosocial intervention than medication and individual psychotherapy. They also may do better going to a non-medical service, such as third sector charitable services, than the NHS. They may even be able to manage within their own resources of support without going to services.

I do think it would be helpful if NHS England could give a better lead about all this. I agree with Lucy that more research is needed, but there is also a need for action now.

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