Young people and mental illness: a growing problem?

Saturday 22 October, 16.00 - 17.15 , Frobisher Auditorium 2 Millennial Dilemmas

In Association With:

Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

According to the Office for National Statistics, one in 10 children has a diagnosable mental health condition. Half to three quarters of mentally ill adults reportedly say they first became unwell in childhood. Having been barely discussed just a few years ago, children’s mental health is now high on the agenda. During Children’s Mental Health Week earlier this year, the Duchess of Cambridge was guest editor for a day at the Huffington Post to challenge ‘the stigma surrounding the UK’s mental-health crisis among children’. There are calls for teachers to be trained in mental-health awareness, and universities are reporting that they lack the facilities to cope with the high numbers of students presenting with mental-health issues. The government has appointed a schools mental-health minister and is introducing a peer mentoring scheme, Youth Mental Health First Aid, into schools. And the scope of mental health is being widened in response to studies like the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood report, which claim British children are less happy than their peers in other countries. A joint mental-health scheme between the Department for Education and the NHS is being piloted across hundreds of schools, and more ‘character education’ is promised to ‘promote wellbeing and resilience’.

It is argued that children today face more pressures from social media, and have to deal with more emotional problems than previous generations, as well as facing relentless stress about exams. Some commentators use phrases like ‘toxic childhood’ to describe the apparent ordeal. But it can sometimes seem that growing up itself is being redefined as a mental-health problem. Is being bullied or worrying about exams really on a par with self-harming or anorexia? Do we really need more counsellors in schools, as lobbyists argue? Or is childish misbehaviour being medicalised, and adults’ difficulty in asserting their authority being projected onto children? Some critics are wary of drawing more children into a therapeutic relationship with the caring professions, and argue it would undermine rather than fostering resilience.

Might we do more harm than good if we encourage unhappy children to think of themselves as ill? How can we ensure those children in genuine need get the help they need without diagnosing an entire generation as mentally ill?