Media: Self-Harming and Student Mental Health… the Solution is with the Government!

In the last few weeks there have been some thought provoking issues in the media – from the role of social media in causing self-harming to the prevalence of mental health problems in students.

NHS Digital has released figures to show that the number of children (aged 9 to 17) admitted to hospital with self-harming injuries rose by 12% in just one year. We have blamed social media for  interfering with elections, radicalising impressionable young people and reducing our self-worth  (as users compare themselves with the idyllic profiles of others) – yet social media seems it is playing a clear role in driving the growth in self-harming also.

The Daily Mail quoted Dr Hayley Van Zwanenbug from the Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre as saying that social medial was leaving children feeling physically and socially inadequate.  Psychotherapist Julie Lynn-Eves wrote “Every day I see young patients left  in torment by images on social media.” Julie linked the rise in teenage self-harming to the phenomenon of social media and its emphasis on perfection and access to images of self-harming.

Now there are many complex issues here – including low self-esteem, and need to have some control or even a feeling of being successful at something. Yet, reading through the pieces it seems that the failure of the government and NHS to properly resource CAMHS (the child and adolescent mental health service) to address the teenage mental health tsunami is now being repeated by the inadequate provision of services to address self-harming.

In other media pieces there was news that the number of freshers arriving at university who declare a mental illness is up by 73% over  the last four years.  Of course, as I previously wrote in “Mental health in education – specialist and complex  infrastructure required!”, not only is this a sign of an increase in such problems, but it is also a sign that young people are more open about such issues and that the associated stigma is reducing.  Further, it is now clear that Universities have a duty to support such students;  and must not discriminate against them or allocate assignments in a way that exacerbates such problems.  The response to this news must be that is essential for our universities engage with the new frameworks and standards being set in pace… and we should look at the reasons why our young people are demonstrating such conditions… and the role of social media?

Finally, I noticed that the University of Reading had published results from a study to show that teenage depression impacts adversely memory.  It’s like a quadruple whammy – we know that depression reduces motivation, increases absence and make concentration difficult – and now it turns out that the ability to memorise learning is also impacted. Tasmin Ford of the Royal College of Psychiatrists was quoted in The Times as saying that a single year of depression in the years from 14 to 18 can completely swing a person’s life trajectory.  While Tom Madders from Young Minds said that it was still far too hard for young people to access the mental health support from the NHS.

So with regard to support for adolescent mental health problems or support for those who are self-harming… it looks like we must press the government to do more.  I realise that no political party wants to head in to an election promising tax rises – but the news that our public services are so underfunded is not unrelated to the fact that income tax rates are lower than at any point in my working life.

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