On 29 August, John Humphrys conducted two interviews on the news that one in four 14-year-old girls are self-harming. The interviews show exactly why 800,000 people have turned off Radio 4’s Today programme in the last year.
According to a report by The Children’s Society, 110,000 14-year-olds are self-harming. This includes 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.
The first interview
The first interview Humphrys conducted was with Richard Crellin, policy and research manager at The Children’s Society. Crellin spoke about how the charity had looked at children’s happiness over ten years and found that it’s in decline.
Some people would say children of that age, I mean 14 is a difficult age…they’ve always come under pressure. They’ve always behaved rather irrationally… What has happened to society that causes this, if indeed if this is as serious as it appears to be, this explosion?
all children, both boys and girls, told us that if their friendship groups valued boys who are tough and girls who had nice clothes or looked nice, that that was harming their well being as well. So there’s something about our society; about the gender roles that we’re playing; about the pressures we’re putting on children around their appearance that’s really harming their well-being.
But instead of recognising this, Humphrys persisted in his line of questioning:
But again you could argue… it was ever thus. That girls have always wanted to look pretty, boys have always wanted to look tough – I mean that’s the way it’s always been.
It gets worse…
But if Humphrys’ first interview was insensitive, his second took things to a whole new level. He spoke to an 18-year-old who had been self-harming since she was 11. Humphrys started by pontificating:
Every parent knows the teenage years are the difficult ones.
And instead of responding with empathy to a young person speaking bravely about self-harm and attempted suicide, Humphrys repeated his dismissive accusations:
teenage girls often go through very difficult times…this kind of thing has always happened to them.
People on social media were outraged at the interviews:
— Irene Sutcliffe 🏴 💎 (@hotsexmadrigal) August 29, 2018
Wow John Humphrys actually characterised child self-harm as just a teenage phase! “Teenage girls often go through difficult times…this sort of thing has always happened to them”.
— Hesh Zak (@HeshamZakai) August 29, 2018
Others asked when Humphrys will finally be retired:
Oh for ffs!! When is John Humphrys getting put out to pasture? Sniggering at children & young adults mental health issues? Defining self-harm as ‘the mild stuff’, & ‘14yolds have always been difficult’. #r4today
— Dr Caroline (Burke) McGee (@CarolineMcGee) August 29, 2018
A crisis in children’s mental health
In 2017, a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report found that children are facing waiting times of up to 18 months for mental health treatment. Responding to the CQC report, head of parent services at Young Minds Jo Hardy stated:
Some parents tell us that their children have started to self-harm during the wait or that they’ve dropped out of school, which not only has a big impact on their own education, but also means that one of the parents has to give up their job to look after them.
Further figures released in 2017 covering a two year period showed how difficult it was for children to get help from mental health services. 109,613 children were refused referrals to mental health services, averaging 150 per day. Between 2010 and 2015, children’s mental health services suffered £50m worth of cuts.
But there are also other issues behind the number of children self-harming. Mental health campaigner Natasha Devon believes that austerity is playing a part. Devon told the Guardian:
The world is just a more difficult place to navigate. You can see a sharp rise in mental health conditions such as anxiety and self-harm since 2010 and that is when austerity began.
It’s time for Humphrys to go
Humphrys’ interview exemplified why so many people are turning off the Today programme. His sneering and dismissive tone in dealing with children self-harming was disgusting. And telling a teenager who had attempted suicide that ‘teenagers go through difficult times’ is unforgivable.
Enough is enough. It’s time for Humphrys to go.
– Young people affected by these issues can contact Childline on 0800 1111.
– Support the Mental Health Resistance Network.