One of the few Shakespearean quotes I will always remember is one taken from Hamlet which is, “To thine own self be true”. This is a maxim that has stayed with me throughout my life. Although the great bard was not, as far as I am aware, a registered therapist, it does pose the question, “Who is my ‘true self’?”. This may seem like some form of psycho-dribble, but it is an important question, because those who have suffered some form of trauma may suffer from poor self image, anxiety and at a very minimum stress.
When working in child protection I became more and more aware that the emotional and psychological factors were often the most significant and intractable factors for children that may haunt them into adulthood. Mental health issues are in the main hidden from view, personal to one individual. Because it is such an individual experience, how it is treated and dealt with by definition is individualised. Merely prescribing medication will not in all cases help, and in some cases may make matters worse.
Two very significant reports were published last month looking at this very issue. One published by the London School of Economics Mental Health Policy Group at The Centre for Economic Performance entitled The Depression Report: A New Deal for Depression and Anxiety Disorders1 gained a considerable amount of publicity. The other one published by the British Medical Association entitled Child and Adolescent Mental Health: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals2 was equally important but did not seem to gain so much attention from the media.
I wondered why there was such a disparity in publicity between the two reports, given that they both deal with the same subject, albeit one deals primarily with adults and the other one deals children. My initial thoughts were that this simple explanation is the answer to this conundrum and once again mental health is being seen as a predominantly adult problem.
However, as I looked further at the press coverage, I realised that this explanation was incorrect and that the main reason that the LSE’s report gained so much publicity was because it provided a solution to a health service problem, it provided value for money and it was also seen as being of direct benefit to the economy by reducing the numbers on incapacity benefit. It not only received substantial media coverage but also received mention in the House of Lords, where Baroness Howells of St Davids asked the Government what steps they were taking to increase “…the number the number of counsellors available to support individuals who suffer from stress, as recommended in the report…”3 In this short report they show that ‘depression and chronic anxiety’ can be helped by “…evidence-based psychological therapies that can lift at least a half of those affected out of their depression or their chronic fear”. They suggest that there is a need to train 10,000 more therapists in techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapists who they advocate should work in teams.
The BMA’s lengthy report also makes a convincing case for implementation of what they see as a well intentioned government policy. What is important about this document is that is clearly shows that good mental health is crucial for all children because it enables them “…to develop emotionally, intellectually and creatively, and have the resilience to cope with problems that life might throw at them”. Again, it advocates a holistic approach that supports the strategy outlined in Every Child Matters and stresses the importance of multidisciplinary working.
In the research for Every Child Matters children and young people identified ‘being healthy’ as the single most important factor in their lives. What both these reports clearly show is that good mental health is in turn central to ‘being healthy’.