How The Victorians Were More Caring Than You Might Think

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten’s research reveals that our perception of the Victorians may not necessarily be the reality. The images conjured by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins were not necessarily a true reflection of how children were treated.

Children were often taken in to care as a result of dysfunctional family situations and parents with mental health issues. The research shows a stronger focus on helping the child than expected, especially those with mental health issues.

The phrase ‘mental health’ was first used in the late 1800s and the main difference is the language used to describe individuals with mental health conditions which was also used to describe those with learning difficulties and ‘peculiarities’.

The seriousness of mental health issues, among other factors, played a huge part in the decision making process. Catering for children with mental health issues was, and still is, a problem. Can we learn from the Victorian’s and Edwardian’s more caring approach?  By making sure we listen to children and give them a voice.

Approach to childhood mental health based on Victorian values

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten’s research, funded by The Wellcome Trust, reveals a different story than expected when it comes to the Victorian’s approach to children’s mental health.  In essence, little has changed over the last 100 years in our approach to these issues. The organisations and agencies involved struggled then, just as they do now. Although the use of language may have changed, many of the same stigmas surrounding mental health still exist today.

Approach to childhood mental health based on Victorian values

Mental Health Awareness Week (8-14 May)

This event will bring together key academics, politicians and local charities with a focus on mental health and generate a debate around key issues and possible solutions and ways forward.

Approaches towards child MH in the UK need to be seen in the light of the postindustrial neoliberal austerity-context, in which cuts have effected long-term established MH services, whilst at the same time there is lots of publicity around how ‘we are failing our children on this front’ – the likes of Tanya Byron, as well as social media (Guardian) consistently flag up failures in this area (e.g. Byron said that whilst 25% of children in the UK have a mental health issues, only 6% of the health budget is dedicated to this).

Sceptics on the other hand (‘Spiked’) argue that an over-focus on MH is counter-productive and that we have to be careful with how we define MH illness; add to that the fact that women are diagnosed far more often than men (potentially down to doctor/gp/diagnostic bias), altogether creating the need for a debate around these issues and find ways to inform and improve practice.

More information can be found at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mental-health-awareness-event-tickets-31962011236