Natasha Devon – Writer
I want you to imagine that you’ve just moved to a new area, and you don’t know it terribly well. So you’re walking around, trying to get the lie of the land, and you notice that every fourth person you see in the street has a broken leg. And you think, ‘That’s a bit odd, I wonder why that’s happening.’
So you decide to ask one of them. You say, ‘What’s causing this?’ And they say, ‘Well, in one of the streets in our town, there’s this hazard, and it causes you to trip and fall over. And for us it meant that we broke our legs, because the infrastructure of this town is such that it’s very difficult to avoid walking down that road, you see. But it has not just affected us.
There are other people who, maybe, they’ve grazed their knees, or they’ve twisted their ankles. So they haven’t hurt themselves as severely as us, but for us it meant that we broke our legs.’ What kind of person would you need to be, for your instinctual response to that scenario to be: ‘They need to make their legs more resilient.’ Because that is what is happening with young people and mental health.
One in four of us will experience a mental health problem during our lifetimes. And the government’s response to that? A resilience agenda in the education system. Now, I don’t want you to go away thinking that I do not believe in resilience, I do. I’m one-third of an organization called The Self-Esteem Team, and we travel schools and colleges throughout the UK, and we work with teenagers giving them the skills we think that they need, that will help them to navigate modern life.
But it wasn’t until was I invited to work with the Department for Education, last August, that I realized that a resilience program, the concept of resilience, could be used as an excuse to pile more and more pressure, indefinite amounts of pressure, on young people, and then to blame them when they couldn’t cope. It doesn’t matter how skeptical you are, mental health is absolutely getting worse, and you can measure that totally empirically. The most conservative estimate is that the four most common mental illnesses in young people, which are anxiety, depression, self-harm and eating disorders, have risen by 70% in a generation. But that’s the lowest figure that you’ll find.