It was World Mental Health Day earlier this week. To mark the occasion, the London Eye was lit up in purple, as part of a global campaign set up in the memory of Amanda Todd, a Canadian teenager who took her own life in 2012.
Todd’s is a tragic story. In 2012, at the age of 15, she killed herself shortly after posting a YouTube video telling of how she was being bullied. However, Todd’s story and others are being used to build a misleading narrative of deepening and widespread mental-health problems among children.
With the endorsement of the younger British royals – ‘Too often we think mental-health problems are things that happen to other people’, says Prince Harry – World Mental Health Day and other ‘awareness-raising’ initiatives create an impression of a growing crisis.
It’s not that there isn’t a problem; there clearly is. The UK Local Government Association (LGA) worries that ‘substantial numbers’ of children are suffering with anxiety, depression and self-harm, and that many more obsess over their body image, exam stress and the perils of social media (a concern heightened by Todd’s tragic case).
A report from the children’s commissioner for England found that 28 per cent of children referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) do not receive any service at all. Of particular concern are the 3,000 children and young people (around a quarter of all referrals) with a life-threatening condition (such as self-harm, psychosis, severe depression, anorexia and suicidal tendencies). Only 14 per cent of these children are able to access services, and 51 per cent are left to languish on waiting lists, sometimes for months.