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The text below is that of a letter to the editor of The Dundalk Democrat. I had intended to read it at the workshop yesterday but pressure of time prevented me. I hope you will take the trouble to read it and leave a comment. A summary of the discussion at the workshop is available on www.cooleyehg.com which is the official Cooley Environmental and Health Group’s website.
The Dundalk Democrat. Edition, Wednesday 8 September 2004
An article written by Louise Geaney headed “Plea to address problem of self-harm among youth” appeared in Saturday’s edition of The Irish Times. The article tells us that a “National Symposium on Young People’s Mental Health” will take place on 21 October 2004 in Jury’s Hotel, Cork. She elaborates, “The symposium will initiate discussion and workshops around the area of mental health for young people.” This is the principal point of an article which is devoted mainly to a discussion of suicide and para-suicide among young people in Ireland.
The connection in the article (unspoken) is that suicide is a medical issue and this is a connection which is frequently made in informal and formal discussion of the topic nowadays. Like disability the “medicalisation” of the problem seems to bring some kind of rationality and the promise of control into the area. But I wonder how valid this medical “model” is in the case of suicide any more than it is in the case of disability?
When young people are introduced to the area of mental heath in these discussions will they be given a true picture of the de-sensitisation, obesity, stigma, depression, isolation, relative poverty and dependency that, to the most obtuse observer, seem to be the inevitable companions of “help” and “treatment” in the area of mental health where young people are concerned?
Is this the kind of help that the suicidal young need to pull themselves back from the brink? On the contrary, it seems to me, that these inevitabilities are the principal probable cause for suicide (and the rate is very high) among mental patients.
There are too many small minds in education and politics in this country that seek to impose discipline, control, compliance and submission on young people in systems and pursuits which are meaningless in the wider context of things in general and militate against harmony, happiness, and humanity in families, schools, on the street.
The ideas that motivate the received expertise in these areas (“psychology” and “education”) percolate down into the very nursery and wreak terrible damage on fragile and developing personalities everywhere they go.
The “army” school of thought may produce silence in the classroom. However it can only stunt the development of open, loving personality (in girls as well as boys) and it will fail to produce real development and learning in anyone. Pythagoras’ theorem can be proved, to anyone who can multiply, in a fairly satisfactory way in ten minutes but while it is great to know it (and it is one of the most useful theorems in all of mathematics) it will do little by itself to keep a suicidal person out of the River Boyne.
No. It is important to consider issues of personal development and personal capacity which are not going to be properly developed by force and oppression. Children may have to cope with bereavement, poverty, loss, crime, peer-pressure and much more – Shakespeare refers to “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” The prescription and didacticism of the psychiatrist is no help. It is merely one more threat that hangs over the child (and society in general).
Mise le meas