Children and mental health in the digital age

A recent report issued by the Commons Health Committee paints a grim picture of the situation on the ground for the mental health of children in the United Kingdom.

The report notes a radical increase in the number of children seeking help for mental health problems (25% to 30% a year) and links it to a rise in the number of violent video games, sharing of indecent images on mobile phones, bullying on social media and proliferation of websites for teenagers advocating self-harm.

The cross-party group acknowledges that social media and online communications are now integral to the fabric of life for the under-18s, but recommends a government enquiry into the effects, because of the potential for harm to this and future generations.

Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the committee, commented that so-called ‘sexting’ (sharing of indecent photographs) could be traumatic for vulnerable young women, who are persuaded to pose for intimate pictures then find that shots are widely shared. She also expressed unease about the impact of violent videos now being watched by young people.

Mental health services are under such pressure with this growing problem that, in some parts of England, children are only seen by a Psychiatrist once they have tried to take their own lives.

A Consultant Psychiatrist with the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, Liz Myers, told the committee that they were receiving four thousand referrals per year, but are only funded for two thousand.

One wonders at the need for a government enquiry when pure common sense suggests that if you expose children to concepts and imagery they are too young to process, of course you will harm their mental health. Arguably, exposing anyone to the same kind of material might cause problems.

But the juggernaut of ‘progress’ takes no hostages – rather it seems hell-bent on destroying all those who stand in its path. Admittedly, such an issue is way more complex than can be addressed here (like what can parents do to control access to this stuff when we are literally steeped in it?) but a first step must surely be to recognise its pernicious effect.

Something tells me it’s not just a matter of controlling access, but looking underneath to the states that drive our youngsters to sink so very low. It is surely a sign of deep disillusionment and despair.


Written by Jacqui Hogan