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Helping young people with mental health issues use social media safely
27% of 18 to 24 year olds suffer mental health issues*
The transition of young people into adults is no doubt an awkward phase for most teenagers. It is a time when they are most vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and addictions. Their understanding of these states of being combined with peer pressure, social challenges and hormonal changes can make their transition a traumatic experience if they do not have the support and scaffolding essential to a successful passage into adulthood.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) have recently issued a position statement on the impact of media, internet and technology on adolescents, especially for those prone to mental health difficulties.
“Families and people working with children need to be aware of the range of issues that media impacts upon, in order to provide optimal advice, support and care. There are particular concerns regarding the impact of media on children and young people with identified mental health difficulties,” said Dr Maria Tomasic, President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.
It is not all doom and gloom as advances in technology has enhanced teenager’s lives in many ways.
Positive effects of new media:
The internet can provide information to young people about sexual and mental health issues that concern them. They can seek help online anonymously and this has enabled some teenagers to overcome personal barriers that have prevented them seeking mental healthcare in a face to face situation.
Positive new ways to socialise
They are able to connect with friends and other young people around the world through social media sites. Global issues that may affect them are more easily accessible through the internet. They can also develop technical and creative skills through various computer programs and find other people internationally who share their same passions.
The internet has changed the way they study and the type of education they receive. IT gives them the opportunity to collaborate online in groups and exchange ideas. They have vast amounts of information literally at their finger tips, so they can be more informed about the world they live in and how its events affect them.
The main areas of concern regarding young people’s mental health and development when using new media are:
- Online addiction
- Sexualisation of children
- Cyber bullying
1. Online addiction
The report Virtual addiction: A 21st century affliction, defines online addiction as:
“the pervasive long term and heavy use by a person of internet and computer-based technologies, including gaming, that is out of keeping with one’s educational, social or occupational role, and that results in a clinically significant negative impact on schooling, work, relationships or general wellbeing and health.”.
For these people, interacting in a face to face social situation can be traumatic so they retreat into their own virtual world of online games where they can project a persona when connecting with other people. This can lead to a greater feeling of isolation and a heightened state of anxiety which can spiral into deeper depression.
2. Sexualisation of children
The increased sexual content in the media is impacting on young people in how they see themselves and how they think the world wants to see them. In 2088 the Australian Senate completed an extensive inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media. It raised concerns over the classification of music videos with sexual imagery, magazine covers and content and the need for better accountability for advertising standards.
Bullying affects many young people and can lead directly to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. The use of mobile phones and social network sites has led to an increase in bullying from a distance. Young people who already suffer from low self esteem or lack of confidence can be impacted greatly. There have been instances where the level of distress caused by cyber bullying has contributed to increased suicidal thinking.
“Sexting” is becoming more common place among young people and many do not understand the consequences socially or legally of sending sexually explicit images from their mobiles. Those with identified mental health problems, especially if they have low self esteem and are seeking acceptance within a peer group may be particularly vulnerable in this regard, both in terms of engaging in sending images, and from the impact of distress where the images are then used inappropriately.
There is concern that increased access to violent movies and online war games can
lead to increased violence and aggression in children and adolescents. The violence is played out in a fantasy world where there are no consequences and if you’re hurt or you hurt someone, then you simply start another game. This lack of grasp on reality and the lack of impact from the violent acts committed can lead to a greater acting out in real life.
Taking steps to develop healthy use of new technology**
- Positive use of new media needs to be encouraged in young people. People working with teenagers should be aware of changes and developments in media and technology so they can best facilitate a healthy interaction with the online world.
- Teachers and parents need to be aware that media use potentially becomes problematic when it leads to social isolation and withdrawal. This can hamper the development of important social skills. Encourage teenagers to engage with other people in the real world and watch for signs of withdrawal.
- It is important that everyone takes responsibility for making young people aware of media literacy and the safe use of technology, especially in the case of sexting. This includes teachers, parents, community and government.
Schools should actively become involved with teaching media literacy to young people, especially the issues of cyber safety, sexting and online games.
*National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB)
**The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists recommendations
Susan Mclean, Generation Next speaker will be giving a an update on cybersafety at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminars which are held Australia wide throughout 2012. To find our more go to Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People Seminars.
Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: ACYS. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP)