Thursday, 27 November 2008

The explosion in mental health disorder and Britney's search for love

I gave another one of my talks this week to an extremely nice and genteel school in the west of London. I'm not sure that it was one of my better endeavours but I'm always critical of myself. After all, this is a completely new aspect of my day - giving talks to kids about the dangers of mental illness and drug abuse. It's something that I know something about - after all, there's the experience of living with someone who has both. However, I do sometimes wonder whether I'm talking into a void. It's still daunting standing up in front of twenty or thirty A-level students and expect to hold their attention, while at the same time trying not to bore or watch anyone roll their eyes or yawn behind his or her hands!

Towards the end of the question-and-answer session, I asked them a question. "How many of you know people who have mental health problems?" I was astonished to see that more than three-quarters of the class raised their hands. Including the teachers. That's considerably more than the statistics portray. Indeed far more than the one-in-four currently believed. Extraordinary.

What was even more extraordinary was that at the end of the session, when everyone was filing out of the classroom, a student came to me and enquired if he could ask me a question. "How do you cope?" he asked. I looked at him. "Why do you ask that? Is there a problem in your own family?" Yes, was the answer. He wanted to know what you do when someone you love has had numerous sections and when your family can't talk about it or share their fears and emotions with one another. I understood exactly what he was talking about and felt so sad for him. My answer was the 'detachment with love' aspect of coping. You put your loved-one into a metaphorical box and tuck it away and take it out and think about it when you are feeling strong. Sounds somewhat whimsical and patronising but it helps. It was difficult for me to think of things to advise, apart from suggesting that he get some help himself too. Someone to talk to who will be there for him and to give him coping mechanisms. I hope he does.

I then saw the latest in the Britney camp. Mum says that Britney was nuts because all she needed was love and affection. And now, having got all her love and affection, Britney is well and happy. Jolly good. Talk about denial...

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