“Mental Health Checks for Seven Year Olds” A Dangerous Path
I write this while watching Channel 5’s Wright Stuff, the current news item is a proposal to “test” seven year olds for later mental health problems. This is a horrific idea in my mind and one that I would actually protest happening. I have reasons for this. Not only am I the parent of a child with quite severe autism, I am also a survivor of our school system, severe bullying, and mental illness.
Now at seven years old I was mostly quite “normal” I guess, but by the age of 9 I was regularly going on week long hunger strikes, refusing to eat anything because I didn’t feel hungry. I was even hospitalised at 11 for “observation” due to everyone’s concern. Looking back it possibly has something to do with control and the fact that a girl called Charlotte complained when somebody else thought she was me. When talking about it in the playground she took my coat and then remarked that she needed other’s cardigans to fill it with: I was thin at the time, perfect weight for height but she made me feel like a fat lump.
Anyhow as time went on things got worse for me, I was assaulted by older children on my way home during the first year of senior school ( that is a different and painful story), my paternal Grandmother died (aka my favourite person) and I began to becoming really vilely bullied at school, bullying which made Tim H’s heckling of me during every class in the last year of Junior School asking me to “just kill [my] self” and “why [didn’t I] just die”, look like a serenade.
During a loo break in one lesson I was even followed into the toilets by an older boy who lived in the neighbouring close brandishing a stick and I had to hide in the toilets as he smashed at the door (with the stick), shouting insults at me. I was in many ways, my worst enemy as I stood up for anyone else being bullied and I used to dress up as a clown every Children in Need and go round the school (all off my own crazy back) collecting for charity. I should point out this was not a school initiative I volunteered for, it was all my idea and I even enrolled my sometime best friend in my plan.
Anyhow I digress, the point is I was horrifically bullied every single day of my life in Senior school, by pretty much every one. I first tried to kill myself on year 7 camp whereupon I was discovered by a boy in my tent with a carrier bag around my head trying to suffocate myself. I felt like nothing, when I did PE I couldn’t even use deodorant as the girls would laugh and point out that I was worthless and there was no point in me using it, was I trying to pretend I was like them! The problem was when I didn’t use the deodorant they bullied me for smelling.
The reason for all the hatred I elicited in people was due to my weight. After my Grandmother died and the other things that happened, I started to overeat and when I say overeat I mean it in a very secretive and destructive way. I would raid the freezer and eat frozen slices of bread in a desperate frenzy: was it to fill the hole of emptiness? I don’t know.
I should really get to my point without boring anyone who may have happened on this with more of my sad tale. The point is, I was bullied by teachers too: Mr P the pottery teacher, upon the entire class putting me in solitary confinement and making snide comments, made me leave the classroom and stand outside as I was “a disturbance” . This was after I had started to silently cry when nobody would pass me the silt and I could no longer cope. A teacher labelled “Fatty Farrow” used to regularly stand me on a chair in the corner of the class and would call me many names. I believe it is because by bullying me she thought she was saving herself from being bullied by the class. She hated me, everything I said and did she would criticise.
Teachers are not experts in mental health, nor are they automatically lovely, caring people just because they are teachers. Some are, but some are vile, cruel people. The end result for me was that I landed up severely ill, first in a general hospital for a long time where my parents were told my “behaviour [was] not compatible with life” and to “prepare for the worst”. Eventually I landed up in an awful adolescent psychiatric unit due to my depression and eating disorders.
When I was discharged I was still very unwell and losing weight, and for many years I battled. My best friend (from my time in the unit) killed herself a week before her 18th birthday,the morning after I spoke to her until late into the evening (I thought it was my fault for a long time for not noticing something was wrong but she sounded happy which was strange for her); deep in depression at the age of 17 I took an overdose when very hormonal. It was only when I started to take responsibility for myself that I finally got well.
The problem is when you have a “mental health problem” as a child or adolescent , despite what they tell you it stays with you, on your record.
My mental health was pretty much ship shape by my early twenties and then in my mid/ late twenties I became increasingly physically unwell. My new GP at first, on looking at my medical record and seeing my mental health problems in my early years enquired as to whether I was stressed or depressed again; I was doing my MA so a little stressed but I was also having the best time of my life and was newly engaged. I felt immediately confused and a victim of my past mental health issues.
When I had some markers come up in my blood tests and the Dr decided to refer me to a specialist, I saw attached to the GPs referral letter a sheet showing notable medical history. This included an eating disorder at 15 and an overdose at 17. These were mental health issues I had as a child/teenager and not in any way related to my physical illness. I had not had any symptoms of mental problems for years and my more recent problems including Trigeminal Neuralgia (which on my first episode impacted on my life) were not mentioned at all.
In a world where we use any reason to label someone and where social science shows us that labelling theory does exist in real practical terms; then surely, despite its best intentions, labelling our children at such a young age can only have a detrimental impact on their futures and how they see themselves and how others value them. I know that my early mental health issues and the way I was labelled, seemed to impact my life for many years
It is a future I hope does not happen.