The Child Mental Health Crisis Debate: Part 2

July 17, 2016

Continuing from yesterday:

Here are some blog posts and articles from those who have been sceptical about the “crisis”, whether on the basis of the data or the underlying philosophy:

These give real grounds, both empirical and philosophical, for scepticism about the alleged crisis. I’ve also heard it claimed that scares about young people’s mental health have happened frequently over many decades. But it is very easy to assume that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. There really could be an adolescent mental health crisis (by some definitions), we just can’t prove it. There certainly are genuine social problems related to child mental health and it is unlikely that all of them have always existed to the same extent. But the question we need to ask is whether talk of a generalised child mental health crisis makes it easier or harder to address those problems. I often see statistics about a massive increase in children self-harming included among cherry-picked data intended to prove there is a mental health crisis. Somebody more familiar with how that data is collected might correct me, but that seems like a very real issue. But why are we talking about a “mental health crisis” not a “self-harm crisis”? Why not put resources into addressing that specific issue?

I suspect the reason for wanting children’s mental health problems to be as dramatic and as generic as possible, is to ensure the solutions are as panicked and unevidenced as possible. It seems at least a bit plausible that mindfulness lessons, putting children off of energy drinks or reducing the amount of exams even further might improve generic mental health. But if one were to make the claim that they reduced the amount of hospital admissions for self-harm, I think almost everyone would want to see hard evidence. Dramatic, but generic, problems lead to gimmicky solutions and public displays of compassion used to shame those who ask the difficult questions. So here’s my suggestion as to how to move the debate forward, and how to address genuine mental health problems: let’s not talk about generic mental health, let’s talk about the specifics. For the next initiative suggested about improving children’s mental health, whether nationally or just in your school, ask these questions:

  • Which specific mental health condition do you want to address?
  • Why do you think resources should go to that specific condition rather than a different problem?
  • What is the evidence that this measure would address this condition?

I think we’d discover that many of those suggesting “solutions” to children’s mental health problems, don’t actually have a well-defined or important problem in mind.

One final warning, watch out for those who would dismiss evidence and reason. Here’s how one progressive education blogger ended a blogpost full of cherry-picked data and ad hominems:

So let’s stop arguing about who can make the cleverest argument. Who can win. It’s childish and demeaning. Even one child thinking about killing themselves is a child too many. Let’s instead push harder to demand comprehensive data. Let’s do what we can to help those young people who are presenting with problems and difficulties – pushing for better services, considering whether or not we can employ full time counsellors in our schools, remembering that stressed people don’t learn very well. We all have a role to play in this. And bickering is not part of it.

If people don’t want to be argued with, even when they are claiming to present the facts, then something is wrong. We all should welcome it if somebody clever tells us why we are wrong. If you care about the truth, the last thing you should fear is debate about the facts and their interpretation.

Continued tomorrow



  1. The crisis we are seeing locally (Oxford) is not so much an increase in cases, but the decreasing age of onset and the inadequate nature of the response to mental health problems, compared to physical health. CAMHS waiting list is now months (although they prioritise severe cases). This seems to be due to lack of capacity. Other aspects of health care, while stretched, seem to be coping.

    • Has anyone considered allowing children to learn to cope with difficulties and problems ?

      It strikes me as insanely obvious that if they don’t learn to cope with and handle minor slights and failures that they will view these as difficult and not even begin to cope with anything really difficult.

      “Generation Snowflake” has some authenticity to it. It is interesting to compare the behaviour of those complaining about the recent referendum vote (not interested in rights and wrongs of that vote here) and the 2015 General Election to when I was younger. I was at Essex University, a notorious hotbed of leftism in the 1980s (and it was !) but I don’t remember anyone actually getting *upset* about Thatcher, the miners or whatever.

      They might have got very annoyed about it, started marches, protests, campaigns about it and so on, but they didn’t burst into tears and claim their whole future was ruined because of (say) the 1983 election, however much they may have hated the result.

      We had an exact rerun of this in 2015 when this same group treated the election of a tiny minority soft centred David Cameron led government as if they’d elect Adolf Hitler’s nastier brother on a walkover.

      Much of the propaganda is just rent seeking by people who want to increase their reach, power or budget.

      I’d go so far as to say any argument relying on “won’t someone think of the children” is such.

      • It is indeed important to teach hardiness, resistance to stress and anxiety. It is also important to realise that when someone is ill it is not their fault and that they should have the treatment they need. There are systems and structures in place for physical injury and illness, but we lag behind when identifying and treating mental illness in young people, not because of lack of expertise, but lack of resources.

        • Which is basically asking for more money ; rent-seeking.

          When someone is ill it sometimes *is* their fault. You can (for example) go out in the cold and wet in a T-Shirt and Shorts and not get warm and dry when you come inside.

          Mental Health issues are different. The issue is not “whose fault” it is, but what exactly is, or isn’t, a mental health issue.

          Being sad or stressed may be “mental health issues” but they are not ones that should be addressed by medication.

          • The place of medication is a huge debate in psychiatry and while anyone in education would agree it should be used appropriately and in balance with other forms of therapy, I’m not medically qualified, so defer to the judgement of those who are.

  2. […] in British schools « Spielmania takes hold on social media The Child Mental Health Crisis Debate: Part 2 […]

  3. […] Teaching in British schools « The Child Mental Health Crisis Debate: Part 2 […]

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. […] at the moment. Lots of people in the blogosphere have been writing about this (see here for summary https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/the-child-mental-health-crisis-debate-part-2/) and the NHS has written about it and specifically how it is covered in the press here […]

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