Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mothering Sunday, Young Peoples Mental Health and Maternal Deprivation Reassessed


Today is Mothering Sunday, and not Mothers Day (which is an American invention that celebrates motherhood and apple pie on the second Sunday in May). In the UK, Mothering Sunday is said to have its roots in an annual tradition that saw people return to their home or ‘mother church’ once a year in the middle of Lent. Inevitably this pilgrimage became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. It's thought that this return to the mother church led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their Mother and the rest of their family.

In some places Mothering Sunday was also referred to as Simnel Sunday after the practice of baking Simnel cakes to celebrate the reuniting of families during the austerity of Lent. Traditionally there was a relaxation of Lenten vows on this particular Sunday in celebration of the fellowship of family and church. These days Simnel cakes are baked at Easter time to mark the end of Lent. Typically the cake has a layer of marzipan or almond pastes baked in the middle, and is decorated with 11 marzipan balls placed around the edge. These represented the apostles, with Judas being excluded for obvious reasons.

I mention this fact as last week Dr Ann Hagell published her recent work on the mental health of young people, which showed that young people in the mid 2000’s are twice as likely to frequently feel depressed or anxious as those young people who grew up in the 1980’s. Her research explored a range of social trends that might account for the rise in prevalence rates and she found that most significant of these was the fact that young people are staying in education for longer rather than going out and getting a job. This has led to a longer and less structured period of adolescence being experienced the research found.

She noted that today’s young people remain in educational and training environments populated almost entirely by their peers and not the more mixed social environment of work. Dr Hagell is a charted psychologist with a long standing interest in social policy and adolescent well being. She was the Head of the Nuffield Foundation’s ‘Changing Adolescence Programme’ on which the research is based.

I was also interested to note that the research, published in the form of a book, had a forward written by Professor Sir Michael Rutter. After training in general medicine neurology and paediatrics, he specialized in psychiatry, and was appointed as the first Consultant of Child Psychiatry in the UK. His studies of autism, depression, antisocial behaviour, deprived, and over active children, have been both influential and challenging. One of his most famous works was the book Maternal Deprivation Reassessed which he published in 1972. He argued that it was normal for children to form multiple attachments rather than a selective attachment with just one person (usually the Mother). Michael Rutter is recognized internationally as contributing to the establishment of child psychiatry as both a medical and psychosocial specialty underpinned by a strong scientific evidence base. In 1994 he set up the Social, Genetic and Developmental Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry. The aim of this centre is to bridge the gap between ‘nature’ (genetics) and ‘nuture’ (environment) as they interact in the development of complex human behaviour in children and young people.

And on this day, although I will only be able to see and speak with my Mother through the wonders of modern technology, I will raise a glass of wine to salute her. She is a Mother who I think has very successfully raised her 7 children well, and who actually bakes a wonderful Simnel Cake. However, I was glad when I was able to get a proper job and didn’t have to climb up, and sweep those chimneys every day.