I am still really bothered by the ISPCC Childline HEADBomz campaign. It has been live across the Republic of Ireland for 2 weeks now, and for all that time parents, teachers, therapists, counsellors, and school Principals have been sharing their (and their children’s) experience of it on social media. It is still being shown on TV and YouTube, in cinemas and in schools (well – some schools, as more and more are choosing not to distress their children by showing it in class). The feedback falls clearly into 2 very distinct groups: those that love it and those that hate it. I understand why.
For the purpose of what I need to say, there are 2 types of children.
- There are those who are generally robust, able, capable. These kinds of kids have their nervous systems working well. They are unlikely to have any current mental health conditions, and are unlikely to have ever experienced trauma. They may have ‘normal’ concerns and worries in life, and will be able to respond when encouraged to let people around them know when they are struggling. These are the children who will find the HEADBomz video hilarious. They will laugh and give positive feedback about the video and genuinely mean it. These are the children that most adults think of when they think about ‘children’.
But in my professional experience I know there is a second group of children.
- These are the children who are already struggling with mild-severe physical and/or mental health conditions – whether they have yet been diagnosed or not. These are the ones suffering with OCD, anxiety, depression, PTSD. These are the Autistic ones, the abused ones, the sensitive ones, the fragile ones. These are the ones with learning and communication difficulties. I could go on… These are children who do not have the support of a nervous system that is working well in their favour. Children who are more literal. Children for whom visual image is significantly more powerful and impacting than group 1 kids. Children who are acutely sensitive – especially to fear. This group of children, if you are not already aware, is growing. They are a significant number in every classroom, every community.
This latter group of children are the ones we need to consider. IF we want to understand why so many therapists and experts in children’s mental health are so bothered by this video, and asking for it to be withdrawn we need to know this group is real, and just as important as the ‘normal kids’. They are living on every street, they are in every class, they will be sitting in every cinema screening. You may not be able to tell – that’s the thing about mental health issues – but they are there, here, among us.
I know these children won’t ever be able to tell the ISPCC Childline what they really think, or how seeing this video has affected them… but if they could, this is what they would be saying:-
Dear ISPCC Childline
There is something really bothering me.
It’s this new video. I see it in my head everywhere I go. It feels like I can’t get away from it. It’s really scary. I know it sounds silly – it’s probably because I am stupid – it’s probably my fault – most bad things that happen to me are my fault. I know it is a cartoon and it’s got a song too so I know it’s supposed to be for kids, but the thing is it makes me feel sick.
I see people, children, getting hot. I see their eyes bulging in their head and then their heads exploding. I know what it feels like to get hot, to feel my eyes bulging. So what scares me is the next thing that is going to happen to me is my head will explode, wont it?
I don’t want it to. I’m really scared that it will. I have started having really scary dreams about it… All from when I saw that video.
We had to watch it at school. I was sat in class and all the children round me started laughing as soon as the heads got bigger and exploded, which was right at the beginning and then over and over and over again.
A big hole got in my tummy. It felt like I disappeared. I got hot and fuzzy and felt sick again.
I really tried to not let my face go red.
I tried to not watch it, but not let them see I was hiding my eyes. They are my friends. They know lots about me, but they don’t know that I really struggle to be like them. I really want to be normal, and I try really hard. You have no idea how much strength I put into it… when all the time I just feel wobbly inside… I guess you’d call it frightened… someone said once it was anxiety. I don’t know about the right words. I just know it feels horrible, it makes me different and it stops me doing things and having as much fun as others.
I so want to be like everyone else, I want to be normal.
So when we had to watch the video and I saw them all laughing, I pretended to laugh too. For those few minutes I tried to pretend to myself that I don’t really feel exactly like the children in the video most of the time… Everyone else thought it was funny. I didn’t want to laugh but I did. I do a lot of things I don’t want to do. But I REALLY don’t want to talk about that.
My teacher was talking after it finished. I don’t know what she said. I could see her lips moving but I couldn’t hear anything. I just wanted to get out.
I got home and was trying to forget about it. My mam said it wasn’t real and I should just stop thinking about it. I tried. I really tried. I wanted so much to forget about the video and those pictures and the laughing song. I played football, but every time my foot connected with the ball, with every kick, every impact, I saw another head exploding and flying across the field. I can’t stop them. The pictures from that video are just popping into my head all the time when I’m on my own.
It got a bit better when I had my tea. We had my favourite and we laughed a lot at my little sister pulling faces. And then I watched some TV. And then it happened. It was there again. Instead of the adverts before my favourite program, it was that same video. That same song with the laughing in it. Those same exploding heads. Those children that are like me exploding.
I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move either. I can’t get away from it. Even at home I’m not safe from it.
My friend said she saw the same video when she went to the cinema too. I won’t go there anymore. EVER.
I wish I had never seen it.
My friend said that the only way to stop my head exploding was to talk. What did she mean by talking? Is this the talking she meant? Talking about something that bothers me? I don’t want to explode. What should I say? What should I talk about? I’d say anything if I could.
She said I should talk to you ISPCC Childline, but you made that video. You made that thing that everyone laughed at. I think you are laughing at me. You think how I feel is funny. You are making me feel unsafe at school and at home. I don’t want to talk to you – but I don’t want my head to explode more. I don’t know what to do.
I wish it would go away.
Please can you help me?
You may think that this letter from ‘Sam’ is a bit extreme. I wish it were. Sadly it isn’t at all.
I have worked professionally with enough of these kids over the years to know how they think, what impacts them and what life is like for them on the inside. Everything that ‘Sam’ is saying has also been echoed in comments from parents and teachers that have been posting on the ISPCC Childline HEADBomz Facebook post and the Vodafone Foundation post. You won’t find many of them there any more – for some reason these and many other critical or concerned comments were being quickly deleted.
More than Marmite
I am sure ISPCC Childline were expecting that not everyone would be over the moon about the campaign – that’s life in the world of marketing. Some will love it, some will hate it. But the difference is this is not about Marmite. This is so much more important. The people who don’t love it have good reason – the MENTAL HEALTH and wellbeing of ALL children.
IF you know of a child who has been struggling because of this advert, I’d love to hear from you. These children’s experiences need honouring. They are important and need to be heard. Please contact me privately here, or scroll down (a long way!) and leave a comment below.
For those who cannot speak for themselves…yet.
If you want to find out more about me, and my expertise to raise these questions,
then please feel free to read my initial article in response to the campaign.
If you want to find out about what numerous children’s mental health experts are saying
about the HEADBomz video then click here.
If you want to read find out more about what is happening to children – in their own words and pictures
from seeing this ad campaign click here.