Appearance vs. Reality: Theresa May's Mental Health Checkup
Before giving our opinion, we want to point out that we think it is absolutely fantastic that May and her government are now taking mental health seriously. We were skeptical that it might simply be something that had to be said because it was mental health week (because mental health problems are not something that surface for a week). However, the money given to Samaritans is a clear sign that the tide is moving from thinking about mental health to doing something about it. We highlight our gratitude because we now live in a society that emphasises an us vs. them atmosphere on the political battleground. Mental health aid is one of the few commonalities that right and left can agree on. May has taken the first step, and this is something that can and should progress, without conflicts. If it does not, then society has lost all of its values.
It is also incredibly intuitive to take a proactive approach. If I asked you if it is better to teach children about the dangers of eating too much sugar or wait for them to develop diabetes and obesity and then try to deal with the problem, which one would you pick? Of course you would pick the former. So why is it that our society believes that a child has to develop a mental disorder before he or she gets help? A child doesn't have to break every bone in their body before they get help. So why should mental health be any different?
Unfortunately, we are concerned about how the government is going to implement these mental health checks. From our experience in the NHS and at schools, we know the immense pressure that teachers and psychologists are under. A psychologist's day consists of checking up with the rest of the team, carrying out assessments, facilitating group therapies, phone calls with clients, one on one therapies, observations, supervision, planning bookings, keeping up with research trends, writing up research papers, business meetings, training, safeguarding and recording every single detail. Similarly, teachers have to cover a packed curriculum, ensure student progression, organise resources, motivate pupils, create individualised lesson plans, maintain a healthy learning environment, maintain discipline, meet requirements for pupil development and assessment, feedback to parents, staff meetings, coordinate activities.....you get the point. So where are these teachers and psychologists going to fit in the implementation and outcome of these checks? It is just not feasible.
And then we come to the next problem. Let's say we successfully implement these check ups and we begin detecting children as young as 4 at risk of mental health issues. Great! But now what? At this current moment, the waiting list for CAMHS (Child and Adolescent mental Health Services) assessment is already several months. So identifying is the first step; but it's useless without the next step. There is also the unfortunate paradox of labelling. As soon as someone seeks help for their mental health, they are judged and isolated because of the stigma, which then has a long-term negative effect on their mental health. And this adjustment might be manageable if you do get the help. But what if you get the stigma and then only get put on a waiting list? The impact can be detrimental. Welcome to the life of that kid who plays by himself, that kid who can't sit still, that kid who is just a bit odd. So now you know the problem and individual identification isn't enough. We need to teach children how to deal with their problems, and we need to educate teachers on how to help these children in natural settings. Motus Learning teaches children how to identify their problems by teaching them that emotions are natural, but they should not last too long AND we teach them strategies to maintain healthy thinking, and to help them cope with difficult situations. For example, we assume that when a child fails, she will be told to try again and she will succeed. But what if she isn't told this? She then accepts failure, she develops a negative thought pattern towards failure, and she gives up anytime she fails in the future. We're here to correct that.
In one of the schools we worked at recently, we were teaching resilience. One girl disclosed that a situation made her feel very upset for a long time. She did get over it but she did not know why. One of our teachers explained that sadness is an important emotion because it makes us think about and reflect on what has happened. This might involve talking to your parents or friends, or maybe expressing her emotions through writing, art or music. She identified that the sadness reduced when she spoke to her mother, and she then understood that talking about the situation is an effective emotion regulation strategy FOR HER. By understanding/talking about how we deal with negative situations, we trial and error what works for us, and it allows us to develop resilience; the best protection against mental health problems. So in conclusion, we give May a cautious pat on the back for looking for a solution to the mental health crisis. Another step in the right direction is taking a proactive approach for every child. However, mental health check ups are not the solution, in our opinion. Education is. Let us help children help themselves. This would reduce the burden on CAHMS, it would allow the NHS to focus more on the mentally ill, and it would teach children vital life skills. Let us prevent problems, and let us promote potential. Yours Sincerely, Motus.