The Language of Mental Health
It’s been a big week for mental health in the media this week starting with Theresa May’s speech at the Charity Commission which focused on children’s mental health. Jeremy Hunt was also on the radio commenting on children’s mental health and the need to reduce avoidable deaths.
Whilst it is welcome to see the attention paid to mental health this week, there is scepticism as to whether the money announced for mental health will actually mean anything. This uncertainty is around whether the extra £1 billion is additional or already part of the spending plans. Also, there is some doubt as to whether the funds will actually be spent on mental health by the clinical commissioning groups.
What is actually being suggested? Alongside staff wellbeing, crisis care and digital mental health, there was a focus on children and young people in education including mental health first aid training for teachers. This also included a review of services as well as a commitment to stop out of area admissions by 2021. It was also said that only a quarter of children and young people who had a diagnosable mental health conditions received help. It was suggested that if children and young people’s problems were caught early then there was a greater chance of a full cure. The proposals also said that it was important not to medicalise mental health problems in children and young people. Almost in the same breath, it was stated that there should be more training of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
So what can we can understand from this? I think it’s very welcome that the mental health problems in children and young people are recognised and brought to the fore. Recognition should make it more likely that resources may be available; recognition does not always include cash. It is concerning that despite recognising that it is important not to medicalise mental health problems, the psychiatric approach and a cure are mentioned as solutions with little mention of psychological approaches other than a need to train more psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
There is a place for psychiatric approaches for children and young people but it is disappointing that the work of our colleagues in providing psychological interventions is not explicitly recognised. This also happens when describing work with other population groups. The importance of formulation as opposed to diagnosis in describing an individual’s difficulties has been clearly articulated (http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/Public%20files/DCP/cat-842.pdf and http://www.bps.org.uk/system/files/Public%20files/understanding_formulation.pdf).
So what can we do? I think it’s important we look at our own use of language and how we describe the people with whom we work and their difficulties. I think this includes how we speak and how we write to our fellow colleagues in healthcare. Most importantly though, it’s how we speak with those with whom we work and gain the shared understanding of their issues and concerns that they seek help with. We can also tweet, write, publish and promote a person-centred, non-medicalised approach. It’s got to be better than just getting cross at what people say on the radio.