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Rising mental health referrals for young people

Consultant psychiatrist Sami Timini wrote an interesting piece that questions whether there is a massive increase in mental health problems among young people requiring CAMHS involvement, or whether as a society we are increasingly unable to tolerate our children’s expressions of distress and are too quick to want to hand them over to ‘experts’, who then medicalise, diagnose and prescribe. While there are clearly unique pressures impacting children today with social media, he makes a really valuable point that if we popularise the idea that there is an epidemic of mental health issues among young people and they all need expert help, the young people, parents, teachers and others who care for them will start to think that any display of emotion that concerns them, feels painful or annoys them or causes problems to themselves or others is a sign of mental disorder and not part of what it is to have the full range of human emotions – distress or certain idiosyncrasies become far too quickly pathologised. He argues “We are becoming afraid of our children’s emotions and behaviours. We are not allowing space for the ordinariness of unhappiness, anger, pain and suffering”. It’s best to promote caregivers and parents to be with difficult emotions, feel empowered to offer ordinary, relational ways to help and not feel an expert needs to be involved for fear of incompetency. There are of course those that greatly need expert intervention, but far too many children who are presenting with normal dilemmas, emotions and difficulties in living are being pathologised and medicalised, which will inevitably significantly shape their future.

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