Without the power of kindness, we are doomed

If there is an irrepressible human trait it’s the determination, against all odds, to reconnect. Though governments seek to atomise and rule, we will keep finding ways to come together. Our social brains forbid any other outcome. They urge us to reach out, even when the world seems hostile.

This is the conclusion I draw from touring England over the past few weeks, talking about loneliness and mental health. Everywhere I have been so far, I’ve come across the same, double-sided story: stark failures of government offset in part by the extraordinary force of human kindness.

First the bad news: reminders of the shocking state of our mental health services. I met people who had waited a year for treatment, only to be given the wrong therapy. I heard how the thresholds for treatment are repeatedly being raised, to ration services. I met one practitioner who had been told, as a result of the cuts, to recommend computerised cognitive behaviour therapy to her patients.

In other words, instead of working with a therapist, people must sit at a screen, using a programme to try to address disorders likely to have been caused or exacerbated by social isolation. Why not just write these patients a prescription instructing them to bog off and die?

At least then they wouldn’t have to wait a year to be told to consult their laptops. I heard of children profoundly damaged by abuse and neglect being sent to secure accommodation – imprisoned in other words – not for their own safety, or other people’s, but because there is nowhere else for them to go.

These are not isolated cases. It is a systemic problem. There has been no child and adolescent mental health survey in this country since 2004 (though one is now planned). Snapshot studies suggest something is going badly wrong: figures published last week, for example, suggest a near quadrupling in the past 10 years of girls admitted to hospital after cutting themselves.

But there are no comprehensive figures. Imagine the outcry if the government had published no national figures on childhood cancer for 12 years, and was unable to tell you whether it was rising or falling. Continue reading

  • George Monbiot is the author of the bestselling books The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain.
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