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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Mental Distress in Children - the key construct for understanding their future mental health and wellbeing. - A Linkedin article

LINKEDIN ARTICLE: https://www.linkedin.com/post/edit/6209109907610832896
"Thinking of your child as behaving badly-
Disposes you to think of punishment.
Thinking of your child as struggling with something difficult -
Disposes you to help them through their distress."
After 40 years of working with children I return in a full circle to the seminal book that informed my teaching and psychology, 'Children in Distress,' 1969 by Sir Alec Clegg the inspirational Director of Education for the West Riding of Yorkshire, published a few years before I was lucky enough to start my teaching there. He believed and promoted the visionary philosophy of meeting childrens' emotional needs and dealing with any inner distress or pain by expressing their feelings through art, poetry, drama, crafts and physical outlets and only then can you meet their wider educational needs.
In an after dinner speech in 1972 he highlighted some important principles for his audience of teachers in training at Bretton College, Yorkshire, which he helped found and which specialised in promoting the performing and traditional arts as educational and therapeutic media. The famous Yorkshire Sculpture Park is in it's grounds which is a must visit. These fundemental principles are:
  • that there is good in every child, however damaged, apparently repellent or ill-favoured he or she might be;
  • that a child's strengths and successes on which a teacher can build must somehow be found for every child ( i.e. discover and 'mine' their inner 'gold nuggets');
  • that all children matter and all can make a unique contribution to society;
  • that happy relationships between the head, teachers, parents and pupils are all-important to the ethos of the school;
  • that the life of the child and a community can be enriched by the development of their creative powers;
  • that encouragement and recognition of relative progress in a wide range of skills is far more important than punishment;
  • that teachers just as much as pupils need support and thrive on positive recognition and specific high quality feedback.
I consequently believe like Sir Alec that mental distress in children is the root of all traumatised or anxious behaviour patterns displayed by them in schools and within their community / society, and they are not due to biochemical imbalances or brain cell malfunctions - I passionately believed this then and still do even more today as a result of my professional experience.

The British Psychological Society, more recently in a paper entitled,'Psychological Health and Wellbeing,'(2009) stated,
"Psychological models of mental health, quintessentially, emphasize the key role of a healthy, supportive, connected childhood in producing well adjusted adults." + "We fully support the proposals in the 'New Horizons' initiative to develop policies to ensure a healthy start to life for children." The current President of the BPS, Professor Peter Kinderman regularly states,

My attempt at a useful working definition of 'Mental Distress,' in the children we work with:
Mental Distress is the gradual or incremental accumulation of inner anxieties, emotional pain and mental confusions which can trigger negative thought patterns, associated behavioural responses and the release of increased levels of stress hormones. These in turn can further exacerbate feelings of the loss of personal power or control that the child has over the world which they inhabit. Increasingly debilitating emotional responses can then interfere with their effective daily functioning in both educational and social settings impairing their future security, development and sense of wellbeing.

My Stress Bucket Metaphor which was first published in 1993 in a chapter entitled,'Destressing Children in the Clasroom,' and has been used widely since in therapeutic ways, suggests that there are three different metaphorical levels of stress that go into into the child's mental virtual vessel for their own accumulating stress. These are teaspoons, cupfulls and kettlefulls in ascending order. Clear 'kettlefulls' going into a child's bucket are the psychological traumas of abuse, bereavement, bullying, domestic violence, family dysfunctionality, neglect, systematic punishment and toxic drug harm. All of these have major Safeguarding responsibilities for society and child mental health professionals believe these key ones are responsible for the vast majority of mental distress in the children with whom we work. The unique balance of these in individuals is the cause of the deline in their mental health and wellbeing.
When using the Stress Bucket in a conversational way, I do a 'My turn - your turn' script where I illustrate the different sizes by relevant age appropriate examples saying,"these are a few examples for children in similar situations at your age" and then pose the open question, "And what about in your life at the moment?" It is very rare not to engage a child in this process but obviously there will be different degrees of success.
The earlier simply stated but transformative views for professionals and parents of a child's complex and interactive needs may help us to better provide for the emotional needs and wellbeing of children in our schools. The following principles may also inform our decision making and the strategies we choose to support vulnerable children:
  • Nurturing principles not narcotic prescriptions are the answer to meeting a vulnerable child's emotional needs in schools and the wider society and enabling a sense of belonging for them in both is paramount. The success of nurture groups in many schools and the Inclusive Ethos in these communities has conclusively proved this in my view.
  • Tender Loving Care (TLC) is the supportive answer not punishment based regimes that culminate in dysfunctional and self-defeating ideas such as repeated 'Isolation,' Saturday morning detentions and eventually an increasing level of Permanent Exclusions, with children as young as six, which can cause significant harm to these children.Who are these terrorising toddlers - I have to say I have never met a genuine case despite being introduced to a few. Inappropriate punishments, exclusion from a family and exclusion from a school are some very destructive approaches for vulnerable and already damaged children. We have to sort isues out positively in the five hours a day we have to care for children within the Inclusive Ethos that we have chosen to create in most schools. We must also aim to get the balance right of a Nurturing : Sanction driven school cultures. Italy has not excluded children from their local community schools since 1977 and this policy was reinforced by a new law in 1999 to ensure funds were available to achieve full inclusion. By 2010 the number of students with special needs educated in segregated settings in Italy was less than 1%. Ontario has also been near fully inclusive with no 'special schools' for a similar period of time. The proven strengths of these systems for childrens' collective wellbeing speaks for itself as can be witnessed on any visit to communities in these societies. Some Scandinavian countries also have some exemplary practice in this regard with highly skilled workers such as Social Pedagogues who work intensively with children in state care and provide the essential continuity and therapeutic support to help them build significant attachments and progress with their personal skills. This tax funded initiative ensures better outcome at eighteen, achieving six out of ten children being supported to succeed and get into university or high level vocational training and saves society massive costs for reductions in mental health problems, incarceration etc. This compares with the disgraceful six out of a thousand in the U.K. due to the mishmash of support and the lack of continuity of key professionals in their lives.
  • Hope, positive expectations, highlighting their personal strengths and collaboratively finding creative solutions are the lifesprings of positive change in children and always will be. Solution Focussed planning methodologies like Solution Circles and P.A.T.H.s have a lot to offer in thi regard.(Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope - see the Inclusive Solutions website or Inclusion Press - Toronto)
To conclude: Three more powerful quotes

"It is not so important for us to know what is wrong with a person as for us to understand what has happened to them." Jacqui Dhillon, mental health trainer.
Together as a creative caring team around a child we can find ways of understanding what has happened and helping the young person to choose a better route away from the painful past and into a preferred and better future.We can communicate the Solution Focussed message that:

"There is no more apt window on the soul of a society than the way it treats its children." Nelson Mandella.
Maslow's principle of self-actualisation or self-fulfilment is pivotal to an individual developing good mental health and a sense of wellbeing, as stated below:
Education must provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way." Noam Chomsky
And now to return to the finale of Alec Clegg's speech which he found in Rome about a world famous artist there -
"The bearer of these presents is Michelangelo the sculptor. His nature is such that he requires to be drawn out by kindness and encouragement. But if love be shown him and he be treated really well, he will accomplish things that will make the whole world wonder."
An perhaps appropriately a poem that I penned on this topic.
Everyday children are being harmed by over-prescribing psychotropic drugs based on 'diagnoses' using pseudoscientific and scientifically invalid criteria for mental health assessments.The National Institute of Mental Health, the largest research body in the world, has stopped using DSM-5 as a research tool due to this since June 2013.Professor Thomas Insel, Director of NIMH condemned DSM-5 for having too broadly based criteria and that there were systemic problems with it's reliability.DSM5 is the main 'diagnostic bible' around the world.
A child leaves alone.
Once clinicked,
Having been white coated
Or diagnosed all too quickly;
Milgrammed - Not with higher voltage
But with a higher dosage,
Than any child should be given
At such a vulnerable growth stage,
As it interferes with their living…..
Their light diminished…..
Their soul extinguished.
Their personality giving in
To someone else’s….
Model of conformity.
A child leaves alone.

WHAT ARE YOU VIEWS - JOIN THE 'GREAT DEBATE, on the overuse of psychotropic drugs with children which is a SAFEGUARDING issue in all Western countries.

cope-yp@blogspot.com AND dxsummit.org = The Global Summit on Alternatives to Mental Health - a website funded by the Division of Humanistic Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

And again a great quote that applies to parents and teachers from another inspiring educationalist of this generation.

WIKIPEDIA DESCRIPTION of Mental distress (or psychological distress) is a term used, both by some mental health practitioners and users of mental health services, to describe a range of symptoms and experiences of a person's internal life that are commonly held to be troubling, confusing or out of the ordinary.
Mental distress has a wider scope than the related term mental illness. Mental illness refers to a specific set of medically defined conditions. A person in mental distress may exhibit some of the symptoms described in psychiatry, such as: anxiety, confused emotions, hallucination, rage, depression and so on without actually being ‘ill’ in a medical sense.
Life situations such as: bereavement, stress, lack of sleep, use of drugs or alcohol, assault, abuse or accident can induce mental distress. This may be something which resolves without further medical intervention, though people who endure such symptoms longer term are more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness. This definition is not without controversy as some mental health practitioners would use the terms mental distress and mental illness interchangeably.
Some users of mental health services prefer the term mental distress in describing their experience as they feel it better captures that sense of the unique and personal nature of their experience, while also making it easier to relate to, since everyone experiences distress at different times. The term also fits better with the social model of disability.

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