The Child Mental Health Crisis Debate: Part 2July 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:
- Bleeding inside: why mental health is too important to get wrong by Tom Bennett
- Is there a child mental health crisis? by Mind Hacks
- Mental Health by Barry Smith
- Child Mental Health and the Schools: Wherein Lies the “Crisis”? by Educhatter
- ‘If adults criticise the views of the young, they are accused of jeopardising their mental health’ by Claire Fox
Mental Health, Concept Creep and Moral Panic by Marc Smith (added 18/7/2016)
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.