Bishop of Tonbridge tackles blame culture around mental health
by Andy Tong | 13th December 2018
THE Bishop of Tonbridge has spoken of his concern about society’s attitudes to children’s mental health in a conference at Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells.
The conference, Understanding This Generation, was hosted by the town’s Christian charity Fegans, which offers children’s counselling and parent support services. The event was attended by representatives of more than 35 local churches.
The Bishop, The Rt Rev Simon Burton-Jones, said that comments blaming young people for not being ‘robust enough’ to deal with modern life should not to be tolerated in the Church:
“Churches have the capacity to offer care across the generations and to use the sizeable local spaces we have to bless those who have no safe space.”
The discussions about the role churches can play in supporting young people with their mental wellbeing follows an NHS report claiming one in eight children in England is living with a mental health problem.
'It is hard to think of a more valuable issue for the Church to be engaged with right now'
“It is hard to think of a more valuable issue for the Church to be engaged with right now,” said the Bishop. “We know something is not right and it appears to be getting worse for both young women and young men, and symptoms are presenting at an earlier age.”
He said understanding why mental health issues among young people are on the rise is not easy because there are many issues to take into account.
“Faced with such uncertainty, some people fall back on easy remedies or, better still, finger-pointing, so others take the blame,” he said. “We should not tolerate such talk in the Church.”
He told the audience that young people are faced with powerful subliminal messages which suggest they ‘must come as close to perfection as they can in their lives in order to be respected by both their elders and their peers’.
“Cuts to budgets for mental illness among children and young people are some of the cruellest to be made,” he said, praising Fegans as an organisation that can provide early intervention.
Inspirational talks were also given by Lucy Kedge, an ambassador for the charity BEAT, which supports people affected by eating disorders; family psychotherapist Lindsay Melluish; Rev Hugh Nelson, the vicar at Goudhurst & Kilndown Church, who helped establish the community group Weald Family Hub; and Ian Soars, Chief Executive of Fegans.
Mr Soars told the Times: “In the last five years the number of under-16s admitted to hospital for self-harm doubled, and currently in the UK, three children in every classroom have a mental health problem, yet 75 per cent are not receiving the treatment they so desperately need.
“Our charity believes that local communities can play a key part in responding to this national mental health crisis, which is deeply affecting the lives of children and young people in the UK today.”
He added: “There was a massive turnout to Fegans’ event, largely from local church leaders and congregations, demonstrating that there is a real willingness for communities to step up and support local families in need.
“Some churches are already providing funding and volunteers to help Fegans, and the evidence shows they are making a real difference.
“The rising tide of children’s poor mental health can – and should – be pushed back. Early intervention saves lives.”
Schools or churches interested in working with Fegans can email firstname.lastname@example.org