I was deeply concerned about this article centred around an epidemic of self-harm among girls at a boarding school; it made me wonder why children of wealthy parents who have nothing to worry about would be so mentally ill as to want to seriously injure or even kill themselves. This is not to say that their plight is nothing when it clearly is a big something – but, something’s not right here. Why is it that a family friend who had seen her own relatives set alight, burned alive and then had walked thousands of miles to try and get to Britain the most happy, positive and hard-working person I have ever known in so much better mental health than all these boarding school girls, for example?
Natasha is right that teachers cannot simply be chucked all the mental health hot potatoes simply because the taxpayer doesn’t deem CAMHS to be a worthwhile enough cause, but I don’t think there should be all these hot potatoes in the first place. I think part of the problem is that an underlying current of Western culture, this collective psychology that dominates, where everyone is waiting.
“I just want my child to be happy.”
How many times have we heard that one? Too many. But when you really think about it, it implies that happiness is something that comes to us if we just wait: let life take its course, let the opportunities come to us. For a lucky few (mainly the wealthy), those fulfilling opportunities will come. For the majority, happiness will never materialise the way it does in the movies. Many parents let their children choose the easy option in life of not working incredibly hard towards exams and in academic subjects (so many parents have told me that it’s more important their child is happy than becoming ‘mentally ill’ through having to work hard for exams); they are under the false impression that happiness is a fragile flower that, at any moment, could fall apart at a mere gust of wind, leaving the onlooker patiently waiting for the next flower to grow in its place.
If happiness is something that just comes to us when we are waiting, then unhappiness is also something that just ‘happens’ to us too. The dangerous thinking here is that the unhappy person sees herself as a victim and never takes positive steps herself to brighten her own mood; one of the unintended consequences is that she never makes an effort to be a good friend to others (because, of course, it is her friends’ jobs to cheer her up, not the other way round) and then wonders why she ends up even more isolated, constantly thinking about how unhappy she is and how it is so unfair that everyone else seems to be happy. My friend whom I referred to earlier could’ve allowed herself to sink deep into a pit of despair, but she dug deep and chose to pursue a positive future for herself. Ah yes, it’s easy for her, isn’t it? She’s not a white Westerner and therefore must possess some kind of genetic advantage over us.
We’re all guilty of it. This passivity. We’re all waiting for everything: the perfect relationship, love, general happiness, a job that finally makes us feel worthwhile, a career path, to ‘find’ ourselves, the perfect lipstick, a mysterious affinity with an academic subject so that we don’t have to work so hard, readiness to settle down, the ‘right’ time to have a child. And if all these things that we are waiting for don’t arrive, then it’s everyone else’s fault, or perhaps just the fault of The Universe. Parents encourage their children to think like this right from day 1 by patiently waiting for their children to be ‘ready’ to behave, go to the toilet, use a knife and fork, read, write, develop good study habits, form a sleep routine, take in interest in others, choose to work hard, find the perfect extra curricular activity, choose to be kind and then if these things don’t happen naturally then that’s just the way it is, clearly some kind of SEN and therefore the responsibility of others to adjust their own lives to accommodate yet more people who are not ready to fully take part or be responsible adults in society.
Ask yourself this. What are you waiting for? I’ve long since realised that career, happiness, relationships are down to hard work and being proactive, but you know what? I’m still waiting for my wine habit to suddenly disappear, or for my body to suddenly want to go for a run. It’s never going to happen, but this whole waiting thing is so ingrained in my psyche that I am still having to root it out like the knotweed of my life that it is.
So, I recommend we all think about what we are waiting for and then we seriously need to think about how we are encouraging young and vulnerable people to wait for things that they absolutely could have control over and could choose to have. And that includes, sorry to burst a bubble here, happiness.
Who’s with me?