One of the grave concerns of parents is bullying at school, that unbearable circumstance in which good, hard-working students are harassed and bashed by ferals in the playground. Instead of implementing a zero-tolerance policy, too many schools have adopted a social welfare approach: putting the interests of the bullies ahead of the victims of bullying. This is an inversion of the Good Samaritan principle, popular among teachers who favour the Left ideology of their trade union. They look at a battered student lying on the ground and say, ‘The child who did this needs help.’
In some cases, special programs in our schools have gone a step further: enshrining a blame-the-victim mentality. This is evident in the work of KidsMatter, a $50 million Federal government initiative run by Jeff Kennett’s Beyondblue organisation. KidsMatter is spreading mental health alarmism in Australia’s primary schools and childcare centres, urging teachers and parents to identify children suffering from depression (even though these children are too young to experience the condition).
Part of the recommended methodology is to pick out students with ‘peer problems’. In the KidsMatter material distributed to parents and teachers, it is said ‘such problems are indicated when students were generally not liked, they preferred to be alone or were picked on or bullied’. This is a shockingly naive and misguided approach. If anyone has a peer problem in the schoolyard, surely it is the bullies. Yet KidsMatter is stigmatising the victims of bullying as having mental health issues.
The children who stand up to bullies tend to be confident and well-adjusted. Often the bullies have tried to break into their friendship group and these young leaders have told them to go away. As a result, they are targeted by the bullies and subject to violence and intimidation. In these circumstances, the young leaders are not displaying peer problems or mental difficulties. Rather, they are doing the things society wants and expects from its young people: standing up for what’s right and acting in the best interests of their friends.
Parents around the country would be outraged to know this is how their taxes are being spent: on social workers and Beyondblue facilitators propagating a belief in our schools that the dangerous nutcases are not the bullies but their victims. Incredibly, Kennett has endorsed this approach as ‘a fantastic initiative’ which ‘has worked wonderfully well’. In truth, the Gillard government should close down KidsMatter. It is not only a waste of money, it is morally wrong, shifting behavioural responsibility for bullying away from the thugs who practise it.
Young children have distinct ways of expressing themselves. Often this involves solo play and bouts of anxiety when separated from their parents. It is wrong for organisations like Beyondblue to look for something sinister in this type of behaviour. This is a worrying aspect of the fast-expanding mental health industry: its tendency to medicalise normality. As Professor Allen Frances of Duke University has argued:
Kids have developmental changes that are dramatic in a very short period of time. There can be lots of unintended negative consequences to labelling children who essentially are normal and will grow out of whatever problem they have at that moment. There’s no evidence at all that we can predict accurately who will go on to have a mental disorder.
In the mental illness industry, no age group is safe from intrusion. With crèches and kindergartens already under control, what’s next in the expansion of Beyondblue’s empire? Barging into maternity wards with mental health checks for newborn babies? Look out for Jeff Kennett in a hospital near you.
It is not only social-welfare empire-builders who are spreading mental health alarmism. Journalists are also part of the misinformation, knowing that inflated claims on this issue generate bigger headlines and more readers. To give one example, this is how the slap-happy Financial Review writer Alan Stokes started his column on 26 November last year:
When you go into the office, boardroom or canteen on Monday, count your colleagues – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. That fifth person has experienced mental illness, will at some stage or is dealing with it right now.
Stokes provided no evidence for this claim or any supporting documentation. It was just a cheapjack way of sensationalising his story. The first duty of any writer is to ensure his readers are provided with accurate, reliable information. In this case, Stokes should have spoken to Gordon Parker, professor of psychiatry at the University of NSW and founder of the Black Dog Institute. ‘It’s been to psychiatry’s advantage to talk up these higher numbers [of depression]. We know that governments are not going to be interested in doing something about a trivial or very rare condition,’ Parker has said. ‘The figure that one in five will have an episode of depression is very evocative … But is it valid? Almost certainly no.’
When you go into the newsroom of a media outlet, count the journalists in front of you — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. That first, second, third, fourth and fifth person has experience in beating up stories beyond the facts of the matter.