Is it just life?
As part of my job at Visyon, I regularly talk with a wide of range people about the challenges children and young people face with their mental health. Many of the people I talk with have personal experience of mental health difficulties in childhood, either directly or through somebody they know. This is not surprising when we remember that 1 in 4 people will experience challenges to their mental health each year. Because I work for Visyon, people regularly open up and share personal stories with me that they have not discussed previously, often surprising themselves with the strength of emotion that lingers beneath the surface of their seemingly-coping exteriors. It can be humbling to hear their stories, sometimes of triumph, often of the long-term damaging impacts of childhood mental health problems that weren’t addressed at the time.
However, when I talk with people about children and young people’s mental health, I also encounter a number of myths. Some people believe that challenges to children’s mental health must always be the result of poor parenting. Not true! The vast majority of parents that we encounter at Visyon are trying their best, often with little or no support, to help their child. Most of them are worried and scared. Nearly all of them love and care for their child and would do anything to help them, if only they knew how to go about it.
Another myth I hear regularly is that children in previous generations ‘just got on with things’, or that what we call ‘anxiety’ these days is really ‘just life’. Let’s think about what this myth means. Are we really to believe that children in previous generations had no issues with their mental health? Are we to believe that bullying, abuse, bereavement, poverty, sadness, illness, peer pressure (etc etc) didn’t exist before today’s generation of young people? Looking at the evidence of history, world politics, culture, and human nature, I think we can easily discount this idea.
So, perhaps this myth is meant to suggest that children in previous generations managed their mental health challenges by ‘getting on with things’. We know that the stigma that exists around mental health, and that prevents many young people today talking about what is troubling them, was more pronounced in days gone by. ‘Getting on with things’ is another way of saying ‘not talking about things’ or ‘burying your worries’. This myth suggests that ‘getting on with things’ was a positive solution for previous generations, and suggests therefore that it was an effective way for young people to manage their mental health. I know from the many conversations I have with people every day that this simply isn’t the case. Most people that we meet are carrying the scars of a childhood mental health problem that wasn’t dealt with properly at the time. Getting on with things doesn’t work.
We can all challenge mental health stigma every day, by including mental health in our conversations. I always find it interesting to compare the ways we think and talk about our mental health with the ways we think and talk about our physical health. Think about how often you hear conversations about diet or exercise or the other things that people are doing to manage their physical health. Now compare that with how often you hear people talking about the things they’re doing every day to manage their mental health. I’m prepared to bet that I know which type of conversation you hear more often.
Let’s talk mental health more! We all have it. We all experience its ups and downs. And the more we talk about it, the less likely it is that misleading myths and stigma will stop people getting help with their mental health.