What do you think?

I can’t remember how I came to meet Professor Lionel Hayward. It was probably in 1970 when I was living in Chichester. At that time he was working at the University of Surrey, while maintaining a private Clinic at his house in Chichester. He had come to the attention of the wider public some years earlier when he was a witness for the defence at the Oz magazine trial.

He employed me to translate some passages from a Russian book on Self-Hypnosis. This made him aware that I had a strong interest in Psychology. Shortly afterwards he invited me to join some seminars at his clinic. The first series was provided for a group of students from the Bishop Otter College of Education. I soon realised that Professor Hayward was trying to start a private campaign.

Why should this be of interest to my readers? Professor Hayward was a man ahead of his time. Only in the last four or five years have our politicians become seriously concerned about the mental health of schoolchildren. He wanted to make teachers pay more attention to the fact that at least 3% of the population have serious mental health problems. Therefore, a Primary School class of 30 pupils will include one or two children who will go on to suffer such severe problems as adults. He felt that teachers should be trained to recognise these emerging problems so that help could be made available as early as possible.

The response from the students at his seminars was very disappointing. Professor Hayward started from the assumption that they would have a number of false ideas about mental illness. Therefore, at each seminar he chose to describe, in detail, one or two case histories which would challenge these false ideas. He would then open the discussion with the question, “What do you think?” Perhaps they were over-awed, but many of them did not speak at all. Those who did revealed that they hardly ever thought about mental illness and, if they did, they saw few connections with the work of a teacher. Let me give you a simple example. Professor Hayward chose one case history to challenge the belief that people with low intelligence (what we would now call ‘learning difficulties’) do not commit suicide. As the discussion began it became obvious that none of the students held this belief, because they had never thought about it!

At last we are beginning to pay attention to the problem which Lionel Hayward sought to raise. How do we recognise mental illness and severe distress? How do we find out what thoughts are troubling our fellow human beings, and ourselves? I left some of those seminars feeling very depressed. The future teachers revealed that they had little interest in human problems. What is worse, I found that they were often in denial and refused to accept the diagnoses to which they were being guided, even when the consequences turned out to be fatal.

Princes William and Harry have done us all a great service by talking, at last, about their loss and the permanent effect of bereavement. Their example should prompt us all to learn more about the origins of mental suffering.

Let me end with a sad story. When I was working at the Sutton College in South London in the 1970s, one of my colleagues ran a club for young people with learning difficulties. The College provided them with classes in literacy and numeracy. One young lad lived in sheltered accommodation with two or three others, supported by Social Services. Suddenly he went missing. A day or two later his bicycle was found by the towpath of the Thames at Putney. Later that week his body was recovered from the river. Thanks to our literacy classes he was able to write a short suicide note. He explained that he missed his parents very badly – both had died a year or two earlier. He did not want to live without them. As a child he had spent many hours with them walking by the river at Putney. So he cycled there and probably just walked into the river.

As Carl Jung pointed out, we often fail to recognise what people around us are thinking and feeling.

Peter Batten


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