When I was a child, mental illness was not a thing. If you suffered from low mood, stress and anxiety, you would have to “snap out of it and stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are lots of people far worse off than you are.” And of course there are lots of people far worse off than you are. But that’s not your problem. Your problem is your problem.
In truth, mental illness did exist. And anyway I was far too embarrassed to tell anyone else that from the age of 12 I was having panic attacks and night terrors. Or that I was attending psychiatric therapy every Tuesday afternoon and not merely ‘seeing a doctor’. (My mum never actually told me I was seeing a psychiatrist until she felt I was old enough understand what and who a psychiatrist actually was.)
People had ‘bad nerves’ or ‘went mad’. If they were particularly ‘mad’, they’d get sent to Barrow Gurney, a mental institution in North Somerset made famous by Adge Cutler in his song ‘Drink Up Thy Zider, which was where he went to visit to visit his brother, Ernie. (No criticism intended of Adge. These were less enlightened times for everyone.)
So, I can’t really complain. My problems were resolved, at least temporarily, and thank God for that. One thing we definitely didn’t have ‘in my day’ was Children’s Mental Week.
It’s Children’s Mental Health week this week (w/c 3.2.20), actually. It’s called Finding your Brave and the idea is that it ‘can build your confidence, self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself.’ You can read this in-depth gubbins yourself on the link above but essentially it’s about getting children to open up about their issues, whether they are bullying, dealing with loss or just about any other source of worry or stress. If adults are notoriously reluctant to open up about their feelings, what price children?
I didn’t get bullied as such, so I was lucky, but I still got ribbed about the keyhole-shaped birthmark on my face and I had the piss ripped out of me when my hair started to get curly as I grew it longer. Small beer, I am sure you agree, but I was very aware of less pleasant comments that were directed at children who might wear thick spectacles or be overweight.
Then, when I left school, people of my age and sometimes younger were killing themselves. I can’t pretend to understand what it was that took them over the edge but my guess of poor mental health must surely have been a possible reason? If not, why?
Mental health provision at all levels and ages is hopelessly inadequate given the scale of the problem so it’s more crucial than ever that our young people get the message that life can be better and Children’s Mental Health Week is a vital part of it.