As a member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, I have heard frequently how social media is implicitly, and by deliberation, addictive – something that developers exploit to ensure that their users return.
Currently, 91% of young people regularly use these platforms, and, according to the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH), social media can be more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes. Moreover, if that is not concerning enough, research from RSPH shows that these platforms can inspire feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, and, in the cases of Facebook and Twitter, make cyber-bullying worse. So, the evidence suggests that young people who use social media are exposing themselves to potential discontent and co-morbid mental health disorders, including: depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.
Clearly a response is needed, and that is why I am pleased the Government recognises the link between increases in social media use and poorer mental health, although Ministers are yet to be convinced that an increased use of social media causes poorer mental health – arguing instead that it is possible for poorer mental health to drive an increase in use of social media, rather than the other way around.
Accordingly, and to better understand the relationship between social media and the mental health of children and young people, the Chief Medical Officer is leading a systematic review to examine all relevant international research in this area. The review will inform a report, with publication expected by the end of this year. NHS Digital has also been commissioned to undertake a Children and Young People’s Mental Health Survey to examine the prevalence of mental disorders. The survey will include a topic on the link between poor mental health and several behaviours, such as social media and cyber-bullying, and findings should be published in the autumn.
Therefore, our understanding of the link between poor mental health and social media will certainly expand further in the coming months, and this can only be a positive for our approach to dealing with this issue.
Because, we do need a pragmatic approach to dealing with social media addiction, given the potentially harmful impacts set out above.
As an aside, we also must deal with the other issues surrounding social media platforms – especially the fact that they provide cover for the abuse of (predominantly) high profile female figures, including many of my colleagues in Parliament.
But, returning to the Government’s position on mental health, I am encouraged by the Prime Minister’s commitment to tackle the injustice of mental illness, boosted by the additional spend of £1 billion on mental health by 2020-21, so people can receive the right care when they need it most.
And, as we move on from Brexit, we must build on these recent positive developments, and recognise that an adequate response to mental health, and the varied issues surrounding social media platforms, should be not just the Government’s priority, but ours as a nation.
I do, of course, accept that social media can be positive and, as we have seen in the Middle East, democratising. However, we must be constantly alive to its negative addictive potential. We must, therefore, curb misuse and offer help to those whose mental health is affected by this powerful tool.