Lucy Foulkes Q&A: Why being more open about mental health could be making us feel worse

WHEN Lucy Foulkes was growing up, young people didn’t discuss their mental health. Today, things are very different. There are numerous mental health awareness days, the language of psychiatry has become integrated into the vernacular and, in some countries, schools have become the front line in dealing with the mental health issues of young people.

Even so, Foulkes doesn’t believe things have necessarily changed for the better. As a psychologist at the University of Oxford, she argues that this societal push to talk about our mental health might not be helping everyone. In fact, it could be making things worse. She talks to New Scientist about how “concept creep” and “therapy speak” are doing people a disservice when it comes to mental health.

Catherine de Lange: It feels like there is a mental health awareness campaign almost every week. Surely that is a good thing?

Lucy Foulkes: It seems like it is, but I think there are all sorts of reasons why it might not be. These campaigns are often designed for social media, posters, billboards or whatever, so they are necessarily very shallow when, actually, mental health is an incredibly complex topic. They tell people to go and get help, and the help often isn’t there. A lot of campaigns are encouraging people to talk and not enough are teaching people to listen.

The big thing that I’m really interested in is whether they encourage people to interpret essentially all negative thoughts and feelings as symptomatic of a disorder or a problem. That has big consequences in terms of making people feel unnecessarily vulnerable and viewing themselves as having a disorder when they don’t. …

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