News and Media.
Mental Health in the News
Over the weekend, news broke that TV presenter Caroline Flack had died by suicide – the story has dominated the headlines and social media has been flooded with tributes from her celebrity friends and fans alike.
And yet in the months and weeks leading up to her death following her arrest, Caroline had been subjected to a barrage of abuse online and in the tabloids. She had also posted to mark World Mental Health Day, telling her followers that she had been called “draining” when she reached out for help, that she feared being a burden – and herein lies a huge problem with the onus being on the struggling to reach out, to speak out and change the conversation about mental health.
So often the task of opening up about mental health falls to those who are struggling, to fight for help and make themselves more vulnerable in seeking help. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t to take responsibility to our own health, but it means we have to recognise that mental health problems are exacerbated by an inability to reach out.
This is when we have to ensure that we are taking notice of the people around us; that we notice when people are perhaps withdrawing socially – or even posting less online and check in or that we pop a card through the door if someone has been absent from church for a few weeks.
There has been a clarion call to kindness in the last few days; and we need to amplify it. We have the example of a God who is defined by His hesed – His loving kindness.
The darkest moments in scripture turn on these moments of God’s kindness. The most commonly quoted verse from the book of Lamentations is the one on which the book pivots:
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
The despair evoked by mental health issues, the despair which characterises suicidality is echoed in scriptures and it is met with the loving kindness of God.
We need to meet despair with loving kindness.
We are all too aware, however, that kindness is far easier to speak of that to enact. We need to take responsibility for consuming unkind content online and in print media, because what we feed our hearts and minds with will inform what comes out of our mouths and through our screens.
As Paul writes in Phillippians 4:8
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
As we go through this week; as the debates rage about social media, print media and mental health service provision – let’s be kind, lovely and admirable – drawing from our God who lavishes us with His loving kindness.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, the Samaritans are available 24/7, 365 days a year.
A recent report by Action for Children has highlighted once again the pressures facing children and young people in the 21st century. It surveys a huge range of issues that young people are facing, but we are going to focus on just two here: school pressure and social media.
A staggering 85% of young people said that worries impacted their day to day lives, with 65% saying that the pressures of school are preventing them from having a good childhood. In addition, the report shows that parents and grandparents are also concerned about the increased pressure on children who have less time to play, explore and be bored because of the amount of time needing to be dedicated to school work.
In addition to these perhaps more “normal” worries for young people, are the rise in concern for global issues such as Brexit, terrorism and poverty. In a world which is technically safer than ever before, our children are worried about the safety of themselves and the world we live in. Social media has a huge impact on this; for once children learned about current affairs in age appropriate soundbites from shows such as Newsround, they are now more likely to learn of world events through instagram or twitter without the benefit of considered commentary.
So what can we do about it?
The most important thing we can do is keep the lines of communication with our children open in whatever way we can. The report showed that young people didn’t disclose certain worries to their parents for fear of worrying them – and I don’t think there’s anything new about teens not sharing everything with their parents- but in churches let’s be available to listen and talk with our young people. For some, it will be much easier to talk to someone else’s parents than their own, and if we can be willing to facilitate this, all the better.
Secondly, we need to be talking about the issues young people are actually worried about in our youth and children’s programmes. Perhaps it’s holding an open “Q&A” evening where a panel could be texted anonymous questions and the answers explored, or starting youth group by thinking through the news and chatting about any concerns raised.
Thirdly, we need to be supporting parents as they support their children. We aren’t given a parenting handbook (more’s the pity) and by running workshops, providing resources such as Youthscape’s “Parents Guides” we can strengthen the family.
And finally, we need to encourage our children and young people to take a healthy approach to school work. For some, this might mean actually doing a bit of work on occasions (!) but for others, it’s about teaching them the value of taking a sabbath rest and encouraging them that school work shouldn’t be the sum total of their life. Along with parents, encourage young people to continue to attend extra curricular activities and youth groups during exam season, get outside at least once a day and have one whole day without school work – even during exam season! If we can encourage our young people to get into the habit of Sabbath rest now – it’s going to be easier to continue to implement in the rest of life.
Students and stress – two words that have been synonymous with one another – particularly in the months between March and June.
And according to the Guardian, this year’s stress has been at a peak. With the shift from coursework to exams, with some students sitting up to 28 exams in three weeks, it’s no surprise that school referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health services have risen by more than a third in the past three years.
With such pressure on our young people, many of them are working longer hours than those in full time jobs, with many withdrawing from social activities during exams, the pressure to be excellent is pushing them to panic attacks and even suicidal thoughts.
As church, I think it’s time we went back to basics, yes exams are important – but they aren’t life’s pinnacle. We need to be encouraging our young people to do the best they can with what they’ve got; for some that will be A*s and grade 9s but for others it will be 4s and 5s.
We want to be encouraging our young people to reach their potential – but they need a Sabbath too! It might be putting on special events during exam time to help them relax and get some fresh air, or setting up a prayer diary so the whole church can be praying for young people as they sit their exams.
Above all, we need to remind our young people that nothing; not grades nor stress, nor a social media following can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
Yet again children’s mental health is in the news – and it’s not good.
Figures from 32 NHS trusts show that a staggering 60% of young people referred to Child and Adolescent mental health services by their GP are not receiving any treatment. There has been a 50% rise in under 18s being admitted to A&E because of self-harm- but the number of young people receiving outpatient treatment has fallen.
The phrase “national crisis” is perhaps one overused, but the danger behind these figures cannot be ignored. Children and young people are not getting treatment for their mental health – despite their GPs recognising that they need help.
So what can the church do to help?
Firstly, make sure you’re investing in youth work. Having a youth ministry which gives young people space to explore faith, ask the hard questions and have a community may not cure mental illness, but it gives them someone to talk to and perhaps connections with charities that can offer talking therapies.
Secondly youth workers need to ensure that they’re talking regularly about mental health; both practically and theologically. The less taboo mental health is, the earlier young people can talk about it and the more effective less intensive help can be.
Thirdly, grow your networks. There are a number of accredited counsellors who are qualified and experienced to work with children and young people; get in touch with those local to you and consider if there can be a partnership made to enable young people to access help more easily. Check out https://www.acc-uk.org for more info.
Fourthly, get the church involved. Pray corporately for mental health services and consider raising money for local projects who support children and young people.
Yesterday, our Founder Rachael had the immense privilege of visiting Buckingham Palace and attending a reception hosted by TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince Harry.
It was a wonderful evening, hearing speeches from the Duke of Cambridge and the President of Mind, Stephen Fry. What was perhaps most inspirational was hearing about the incredible work all over the UK being done to combat the stigma of mental illness; from long time volunteers with the Samaritans to teachers who are leading the way in creating mentally healthy schools.
It was an unforgettable evening and one Rachael honoured and humbled to have been a part of.
Below are some of the official photographs from the evening.
To mark World Mental Health Day and the beginning of our #Sanctuary campaign we are excited to offer two additional modules as a part of our ThinkTwice Course.
The two modules will be on Bipolar Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. With 2% of the population living with bipolar disorder and 4% of adults living with PTSD we want to expand our course to include these often misunderstood conditions.
For more information on our course check out http://www.thinktwiceinfo.org/course
This morning the suicide statistics for the past year have been released and, on the whole, it’s good news. Suicide rates are at their lowest since 2011. There has been a 9.7% drop in the number of women dying by suicide, middle aged men are still at the highest risk of suicide and sadly Scotland has seen a 7% rise in the number of people dying by suicide in the past year.
It’s amazing to see the work of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England is having an effect with the rates of suicide falling overall – breaking the silence and stigma around suicide saves lives.
As ever the report highlights those at the highest risk of suicide; and this year it highlighted the role of divorce in male suicide with divorced men three times more likely to take their own lives that those in a relationship. It also noted that people among the most deprived 10% of society are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than the least deprived 10% of society.
It seems to me that these statistics provide a great challenge for our church communities; to ensure that those going through relationship breakdown are supported and not excluded from church family events and to be aware of the mental health of those struggling with poverty; perhaps those who visit our food banks or lunch clubs. Let’s not be afraid to talk about emotions in our churches and community projects.
Even one suicide is too many; because suicide is preventable. Let’s keep the conversation going; speaking of suicide and speaking of hope.
You probably remember where you were when you first heard the news.
I’d crept downstairs to watch my early morning cartoons and to my disgust it was rolling news on every single channel and they were all telling the same story.
Diana, the Princess of Wales had died in a car crash.
When I told my Mum as she came down to make breakfast later that morning, she didn’t believe me until she saw the news with her own eyes.
The death of the “People’s Princess” marked a sea change in the way our country dealt with emotions. The outpouring of grief that greeted the news was something never seen before; thousands of flowers were laid to remember the Princess and people cried openly.
The outpouring of public grief that was unprecedented and even aged seven I sensed the heavy emotion that hung in the air over the following days.
And part of her legacy, is a willing openness to talk about emotions and mental health in a way that had not been done before. Her Panorama interview talking about her ongoing struggle in with an eating disorder may not seem to be groundbreaking today, but Diana began a conversation about mental health long before it was at the forefront of political campaigns.
Her and life and her death changed the way we not only expect our royals to behave, but it also called into question the quintessentially British ‘stiff upper lip’ in times of turmoil. The crowds who cried openly on the streets of London in the days after death have become a symbol of a new kind of Britain which is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve and talk about mental health.
Twenty years on, and Princes William and Harry, along with Catherine are also doing their bit for mental health awareness with their Heads Together campaign.
Mental health awareness has come a long way in the twenty years since her death and I for one am thankful for her openness that began the journey towards the end of the stiff upper lip.