Yes, young minds matter. But let’s not pathologise children

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In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about the way society talks about mental health.

It started when I worked at an American summer camp. I witnessed what it’s like to live in a country that constantly labels and medicalises emotions.

Everyone was on ‘something’. At dinner times, the camp nurse walked around the children’s tables, handing out little plastic cups of medication. I was astonished by how many were dosed up because they had depression, anxiety, ADHD or another thing. Some of the kids were as young as eight. I watched them trying to do normal things, like kick a ball around or play with their friends. But they were different; dopey, detached, and in some cases extremely anxious.

I write this a day after The Duchess of Cambridge penned a piece for The Huffington Post to spread awareness of mental health issues in young people, and to end the stigma around asking for “emotional or psychiatric help”. “We know there is no shame in a young child struggling with their emotions or suffering from a mental illness”, she writes.

It is an article with very honourable aims. And yet, it does concern me. The reality is that there are, indeed, young people experiencing real difficulties with mental illness – whom society could better support.

But there are also lots of children who live completely oblivious to mental illness, and will never consider if it affects them. This ignorance is bliss.

That bubble might be about to break. The Duchess’ piece might encourage parents to monitor their children for symptoms of psychiatric disorders, when they are not there. It might even make children start to diagnose themselves.

‘Mental illness’ is an extremely broad term, that encompasses a whole set of states. At one end of the spectrum, you have life-changing disorders such as Schizophrenia, hypomania and psychosis. At the other you have anger, loneliness and anxiety. Many of these are normal variants of human experience, and often justified responses to unhappy situations. But they are increasingly becoming pathologised.

According to MentalHealth.org, 1 in 10 children and young people are affected by mental health problems, which is an alarming statistic. But I’m sure it would be a lot less if, instead of seeing states such as anxiety as an ‘illness’, we granted it a functional part of our existence.

In America, they bear the consequence of a government that heavily publicised mental illness in all its guises. And the result is a highly medicalised and reductionist country, where people cannot allow themselves to feel negative emotions. American children are the victims of this psychiatry-obsession – any sadness or anxiety they now feel a symptom of something more sinister.

Yes, we must help young people with mental health issues more. But we must be sensitive not to colour the experiences of children who do not need intervention with our adult knowledge. We must allow them to explore their own emotions without telling them they’re wrong, or seeking psychiatric counsel. Getting children with psychiatric problems help is not so much to do with spreading awareness, but using good judgement.

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We can’t all be models, love

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Sherene Zarrabi isn’t the latest victim of “body shaming”; she’s just had a reality check

I’ve never understood why anyone would want to be a model. A life without biscuits! No thanks.

Of course, there’s another reason most of us will never make it down the catwalk. It’s called aesthetics. Ever since I stopped growing at the age of eleven, I’ve accepted my fate.

That’s proving tougher for others, evidenced this week by the tragic tale of Sherene Zarrabi.

She worked as a shop assistant at the Dainty Hooligan store in Oklahoma. Being a fan of the clothing there, one day Zarrabi thought to do her very own fashion shoot – documenting it on the shop’s Instagram account.

But here’s the problem: Zarrabi isn’t dainty, and quite reasonably her employer thought to point this out in an email. “Oi Sherene!” She wrote. “Get off Instagram”.

Or something to that effect. I think her precise words were that Zarrabi wasn’t “model material”.

Instead of quietly accepting the feedback, Zarrabi took to Facebook to recount how she’d been “attacked and discriminated against”. And thus a star was born, with the press describing the 21 year old as the latest victim of “body shaming”.

If this is so, I want to know since when did “body shaming” stand for having eyes? For it’s clear that Zarrabi, though very pretty, doesn’t fit in with the aesthetic ideals of Dainty Hootligan’s Instagram page (which, by the way, largely features one skinny blonde lady and dogs).

Zarrabi joins a host of catwalk wannabes who’ve transformed rejection into opportunity. Last year there was Charli Howard, the girl who cried into The Guardian’s arms after an agency told her she was “too big” to make it.

I wish they’d get a grip or change career. For they can hardly feel aggrieved when an industry entirely centred on appearances rejects them for their looks.

Zarrabi’s claims of discrimination are quite astonishing given she was never hired to sport clothes and should have, probably, been on the tills that fateful day.

Quizzed about her email, her former employer told the press “I never meant to be mean or attacking, but I’m not apologising for the unsaid fashion rule”.

I hope she sticks to her guns. After all, we all know bigger brands make these sorts of scrupulous decisions all the time – only with better PR teams to back them. Unfortunately I fear this debacle will mark the end of the Dainty Hooligan store, and its owner’s career.

And it will leave other retailers in no doubt of what the outcome might be should they make public their commercial decisions.

But I say, don’t be bullied by the Zarrabis of this world. They show no model behaviour.

Yes, Catholic priests were bad. But Spotlight is bad too

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SPOILER ALERT

Here’s the deal, right.

There are bad things in the world. But not every bad thing needs a film about it.

Otherwise it’s possible to produce something like Spotlight. The latest piece of Oscar bait, that’s dull and uninspiring – all because it does little more than to tell you that something bad happened.

It depicts the true story of a group of journalists working for The Boston Globe newspaper. In 2001, they began a campaign to expose Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area, who – for years – sexually abused tens of children, without anyone noticing.

The plot is as follows: the journalists expose the paedophiles. Everyone is horrified. The end.

I say that’s the end, as – to my disappointment – that is the end of Spotlight. In fact, nothing much happens in it at all, other than the journalist team tracking down the Catholic priests, interviewing them and documenting their crimes.

Look, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make films about bad things. I’m just saying that there has to be something else to it – intellectual analysis, parallels in the plot and nuanced editing. It is not enough simply to record, like a documentary, a series of events; the writing and direction must add something to the material. Otherwise it doesn’t do justice to true events.

I’m sad not to like Spotlight, because it has a stellar cast – with Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffallo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams as reporters. I have never seen such a waste of talent. None of these characters has any personality. Ruffallo is the only one who puts any energy into the role, but comes across as brash and sanctimonious – pouting away with every fresh priest allegation. There is no interplay between the team – no romance, tension, nada. In fact, the script is in desperate need of Aaron Sorkin.

Not least because he could make it more balanced. Spotlight only focuses on its journalist team, and rarely do you come face to face with the enemy (Roman Catholic priests). Yes, they were evil – but that does warrant their omission as characters in the story. In Spotlight, the protagonists largely react to letters, victim testimonies and two-minute interviews with elderly priests. It never feels like enough to hit home how horrifically they behaved.

Because this film is about paedophiles, it’s tricky to criticise it – lest you be accused of trivialising the subject matter. There is a part of me that hates the ‘moralist movie’ – whose theme will make it exempt from harsh judgement, and whose protagonists always seem to be without fault.

But I can’t support something that’s relentlessly miserable for the sake of it. And a piece that, throughout, forgets its function as drama.