Saturday, July 3, 2021

An Epidemic of Childhood Depression

Occasionally, I repeat to myself a simple formula. Anything you destigmatize, you get more of. That means, be careful what you destigmatize.

For example, if you destigmatize divorce you get more divorce. Do we want more divorce? I leave that one to you. If you destigmatize obesity, lo and behold, you get more obesity. If you destigmatize hookups, you get more hookups. But you also get more situations in which men treat women disrespectfully.

Often you hear our usual brigade of know-nothing experts claim that if only we remove the stigma around mental illness, more and more people will present themselves for treatment.

And, the sun will start rising in the West. 

One feels compelled to notice that most of what passes for mental health treatment these days is not worth very much. Aside from medication, in some cases and when prescribed by a psychiatrist, and cognitive behavioral treatments, most of what is on offer is touchy-feely nonsense. One reason people do not present themselves for treatment is that the treatment is most often not worth the time or trouble.

That being the case, we can address what happens when mental illness is destigmatized. According to one Max Pemberton, an excellent columnist who writes for the Daily Mail, you get an epidemic of mental illness. It’s not merely that young people, those most vulnerable to suggestion, are happily or unhappily proclaiming themselves to be suffering from mental illness, but that they now seem to see it as a sign of superior moral character. In their terms, it makes them cool.

Of course, Pemberton is writing in Great Britain, where, one assumes, care is more easily accessed. And one must add that the Covid lockdowns, the school closings, the mask mandates, the social distancing produced a considerable amount to mental illness, especially in young people.

One remarks, for example, that not all countries shut down their school systems, as many parts of America did. In France, I am told, schools stayed open.

In any event, these caveats given fully weight, Pemberton refers to a study that covers a decade. Over that period of time, it has become cool to be depressed. How about that, destigmatizers?

A teenager said to a shocked colleague of mine the other day that it was ‘cool’ to have depression. No, it’s not. It’s absolutely earth-shatteringly horrible.

But this just shows what I have long suspected: Many young people consider it preferable to have ‘clinical depression’ than a dreary life.

Don’t believe me? According to a study from university admission service UCAS, the number of prospective students declaring mental health conditions on their application forms has soared by 450 per cent in the past decade. This follows several reputable-sounding surveys over the past few years that have suggested about 50 per cent of children are experiencing mental health problems.

Fifty percent is a large number. Does it come from too many broken homes? Does it come from a country that has become increasingly woke and that no longer rewards children for merit? Does it arise from a country that is losing confidence in itself? Does it come from high school students who were brought up permissively and who know too much about sex, alcohol and drugs? Dare we mention, some of it comes from trans brainwashing.

Being as we do not inhabit the British Isles, we are only speculating. But, still, the fact that it is cool to be depressed, or perhaps to be suffering adolescent anguish, or to have an identity crisis, seems to have escaped any effort to stigmatize mental illness, or to stigmatize being treated for it.

Somehow or other, and not to my surprise, increased awareness, which normally accompanies destigmatization, produces more mental illness.

Of course, leading the march toward more mental illness, and that means, more panicky reactions to the torments of childhood, are the usual coterie of brain dead celebrities:

Yet because of the celebrity factor, with various household names opening up about their ‘battles’, there are many people who are clamouring for a diagnosis – a label – to give a sense of validation to their problems. As a result, normal emotional difficulties that are an inevitable consequence of life are increasingly being portrayed as abnormal and some form of illness. Normal distress and emotions are being medicalised.

Pemberton is too kind and too well-mannered to say it, but among the leading celebrities who went public about their mental health struggles was Diana, Princess of Wales. Think about it. When Diana chose to advertise her bulimia, she contributed mightily to a worldwide epidemic of bulimia. Every girl wants to be a princess… ergo, Diana was a decidedly bad influence on the mental health of girls around the world.

Pemberton explains:

Feeling down because your boyfriend dumps you, or your friends go bowling without you, is not a mental illness. Moping in your bedroom while listening to music and bemoaning the fact that no one understands you is not a mental health problem. Sometimes, life is upsetting and unpleasant, and it doesn’t go how we want it to. Sometimes, you feel fat, ugly or unattractive. This is not a psychiatric problem. It’s normal to be upset, angry or down sometimes. It’s normal to cry when you’re upset.

Back in the day, in the late 1960s, that is, an American psychoanalyst by name of Erik Erikson declared that adolescents were undergoing what he branded an identity crisis. At the time, for those who remember, it became cool to have an identity crisis. Without being more cynical than usual, we can offer our opinion-- intentionally or unintentionally Eriksom was drumming up business for a burgeoning mental health industry.

And now, in Great Britain, conscientious parents are clamoring about how much their children need therapy.

This ‘overdiagnosis’ has affected all areas of mental health, but has been seen most acutely in children’s services.

Colleagues who work in child and adolescent mental health services speak about how they are inundated with referrals not from those patients with the worst symptoms, who urgently need help, but those with mild symptoms but who have parents demanding they are seen.

Of course, it’s a good thing that we have greater understanding and sympathy for those struggling with mental health conditions.

But the increased awareness has not been the panacea we had hoped for. It has, sadly, created just as many problems as it cured.

Actually, increased awareness always creates as many problems as it cures. This has not prevented anyone from thinking that we need to have increased awareness, but at least it’s a boon for the mental health profession.

As for how to deal with children’s emotional issues, how about reopening schools and letting children have a life outside of the home. As for within the home, one thing that works effectively to provide emotional support is a stable family environment, organized around regular family dinners.

Less whining about one’s emotional issues; fewer calls to destigmatize mental illness; less therapy;  more family dinners. That's today's prescription!


David Foster said...

A woman I knew went to a psychiatrist, I think after it was after a bad breakup. Never went back...said she was bored talking about herself that much.

But there are a lot of people who *love* talking about themselves, and such people are probably more likely to seek mental-therapeutic help in one form or another. And we most definitely have an epidemic of narcissism in this country.

IamDevo said...

Everyone remember the anorexia/bulimia epidemic? The "cutting" craze? I do. It's what happened when a couple weird adolescent females took their weirdness global on the internet, mostly. Now the phenomenon has escalated into the so-called transgender craze, only this time, it's mostly weird middle-aged men who have become the focus. Like Warhol said, in the future (now) everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame. What used to be the actions of a few isolated head cases was transformed, via the internet into a trendy fashion statement. I wonder, with trepidation, what's in store for us next?

Sam L. said...

"And, the sun will start rising in the West." I say, it will rise from the sewers.