We need to stop blaming social media for the teenage mental health crisis

The number of girls who have self harmed to the extent they require hospital treatment has doubled from 7,327 in 1997 to 13,463 last year, according to NHS data. Natasha Devon, writer and mental health activist writes in the Metro. 

The figures released by ministers also reveal hospital admissions for overdoses have increased tenfold from 249 to 2,736 in the same time period.

As a campaigner who visits an average of three schools and colleges throughout the UK and beyond every week, they aren’t surprising to me. I’ve been doing this job for a decade and have seen dramatically escalating rates of stress, anxiety and emotional distress in pupils and teachers alike.

In 2016, The Times ran a front page stating the number of hospitalisations for self-harm and eating disorders had doubled in three years. The media were catapulted into an immediate frenzy, just like they have been today. The newspapers wanted to know what it was about being female that makes life harder, and questioned whether feminism had failed to embed itself into school culture.

Then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, meanwhile, pointed his finger firmly in the direction of social media. The Department for Education emphasised that they had invested £1.5 billion into improving mental health education in schools by 2020.

Every one of these responses spectacularly failed to address the heart of the issue.

Of course, teenagers I work with have told me the internet taught them how to self-harm, whether through triggering imagery, pro-harm websites or well-meaning awareness-raising articles.

Yet that doesn’t explain why they are doing it – self-harm is always a communication of some form of distress. We should, therefore, be asking ourselves what is causing this distress.

The curriculum has been narrowed, testing has increased, funding and resources for subjects with therapeutic value such as art, sport, music, drama and PHSE slashed and stress placed upon teachers increased. Academic anxiety has now superseded body image worries as the primary reason young people tell me their mental health is suffering.

And while more young women attempt suicide, it remains the number one cause of death for young men under 35. It is erroneous to suggest girls suffer disproportionately – it is simply that symptoms manifest differently in different people.

In this context, Damian Hinds’ recent proposals that mental health education should be made compulsory by 2022 in the form of teachers ‘discussing resilience’ with pupils seem, to say the least, inadequate.

Read the full article We need to stop blaming social media for the teenage mental health crisis

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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