Mental health and children

 

Sir, – While listening to a panel discussion on radio recently, I was shocked to hear an educationalist say that all school children would need psychotherapy when the schools eventually reopen. I was even more shocked that nobody challenged that statement.

Of course, this is a very anxious time for children and many of them are missing their school friends, but they will not all react in the same way.

Depending on the family resources, and I am not talking about money here, some children may have benefited from extra time with parents or carers.

They will have learned new skills, perhaps connected with nature in a more meaningful way. Some will have had their artistic talent nurtured.

Many will have become more connected with their communities by helping others who needed it. They will have discovered who are the essential workers in society and may now attach more value to what were generally regarded as menial jobs, such as cleaning and stacking supermarket shelves.

There will be some children who are so distressed that they will need help, but this will not be all of them by any means.

There is a narrative in the media to suggest that anxiety and depressive disorders are now universal, and a tendency to label normal behaviour in a risky situation as an illness.

The danger of this is that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that to be one of the crowd and fit in, a child will feel the need to display problematic behaviour and to speak the language that goes with it, thus actually acquiring the condition.

While there was a period in Ireland when psychological problems were swept under the carpet and a stigma attached to anyone who was suffering from such, we may now be in danger of too much raising of awareness.

Dr Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist who was president of the Royal Society of Medicine in the UK, suggests that this leads to excessive demands on the mental health services when we cannot deal with the number of people who require help.

This is not to diminish or disrespect the real and difficult problems that many people have and will have before this crisis is over, but it is a plea to put it in perspective.

There is a balance to be reached here, and the evidence of previous disasters show that human beings do have the capacity to recover and help others do the same. – Yours, etc,

Dr TERESA GRAHAM,

Counselling Psychologist,

Tramore,

Co Waterford.