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Social media and our mental health

Since social media became so prevalent, young people’s mental health problems have risen sharply.

How sharply?

Six-fold, according to a major new study that has just been published.

This latest research, which is outlined in the journal Psychological Medicine, tracked trends from 1995 to 2014 and discovered that the number of children and young people reporting a “long-standing mental health condition” has soared amongst a generation brought up with the internet.

  • In 1995, just 0.8% of four to 24-year-olds in England reported such a problem.
  • In 2014, the figure had risen to 4.8% — the equivalent of almost one in 20 young people.

It’s worth highlighting here that the question addresses issues that can be considered “long-standing” and that those experiencing other associated problems are rather greater in number.

In both cases, social media and all that it entails plays a part that is significant in scale.

To quote Dr Dougal Hargreaves from Imperial College London and the Nuffield Trust, the study’s lead researcher:

“There are likely to be many reasons behind this striking rise in self-reported mental health conditions. While some of it could be explained by better awareness and a reduction in stigma around mental health, other things such as social media and cyberbullying may well have contributed to the rise in mental health problems among young people. We know that young people say social media has a negative impact on their self-esteem, with almost half of young girls highlighting this in a recent survey.”

This last point ties into another national study, this one revealing that between 1998 and 2014, social media has contributed to a worrying rise in self harm, with teenage girls in particular at risk.

In this instance, the internet is blamed for fuelling anxiety, insecurity and copycat behaviour, with self-poisoning using paracetamol and/or anti-depressants having tripled, and body image/confidence issues believed to be, in a large part, responsible.

“The findings in this report are very troubling and reinforce recent reports of a rise in self-harm in young people, particularly girls and young women,” said Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ child and adolescent faculty. “Comparisons around body image on social media are likely to be affecting girls more than boys and this could have contributed to this.”

Do you have body confidence/image issues? Does social media and/or the internet make you anxious? Concerned about self-harm and not sure where to turn? CPUK can help.

Our advice might sound simple, but trust us, it works.

Find somebody to talk to. Log off and give social media a miss for a time. Take a break from your smartphone, tablet and computer. Go outside. Exercise. Spend time with friends. Experience life.

This is just a starting point, beyond which there are countless things — screen-free interests and hobbies — that can help.

One suggestion that has struck a chord here in recent times is to give life drawing a try, this a pastime that, for those with body confidence issues, presents a much better picture of what “real people” look like than social media and TV shows such as Love Island.

Could this help your body image issues? Here at CPUK, we believe it to be worth a try.

“What is out there online for youngsters is often superficial and does not accurately represent what people look like in real life,” said Alastair Adams, the former president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. “I would think images seen online and on social media are having an impact of distorting reality, and I’m sure [that these] cause people to have body confidence issues or think how they look is different.”

Be it taking up painting or just going unplugged, there are steps you can take and making social media less prevalent/important in your life is a good starting point.

Like to find out more about CPUK, mental health and how you can access the support you need?

You can always contact us here.

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