young people
Mental health

World Mental Health Day: Young people in a changing world

Young people today face very different pressures to the ones I experienced. I cannot say whether it is better or worse to be a teen these days without experiencing them both first hand. I think the biggest difference is technology and it’s having a great impact on everyone, not just our young people.

young person showing older person how to use technology

It’s social media in particular that has revolutionised the way we interact with each other and the world at large. I can barely keep up with the number of platforms from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Aloqa to various online dating sites! My grandmother, bless her, even tried to “Facemail” me the other day, I’m assuming that was a mistake, not another networking platform!

YouTube wasn’t even a thing as I grew up, now we have someone whose identity is as a ‘YouTuber’ appearing as a ‘celebrity’ on Strictly Come Dancing (I think he’s amazing and might actually win!)

Anyone in the public eye and how the media portray them, influence young people as they grapple with issues such as identity, morals, ethics and personal boundaries. If you want to be successful and ‘liked’ there is a certain body shape we should have, a certain way to dress and a specific way to talk and behave – most of this for the average Jo is unobtainable. While these ‘ideals’ have always been there, perhaps with a different emphasis, they are now more accessible and almost invade our lives in a way never experienced before.

The speed of technological change is such that instead of us designing technology to meet a particular need, technological advances are now telling us what we need! As a young person, growing up, never did I think “I wish I had a device in my pocket that alerted me the minute a [insert reality TV star] goes up or down a dress size”!

Questioning the amount of screen time a young person should or shouldn’t have is just the tip of the iceberg. How their real relationships are impacted by their virtual relationships is complicated.

young person using a computer

Technology has advanced before we’ve decided what we want and, as with any change, it’s open to abuse. Social media is great at enabling us to make positive connections, it’s also there if people want to make negative connection such as cyber-bullying and trolling.

Cyber-bullying has been named as a key factor in young people dying by suicide. Being bullied at school is bad enough, but when it flows beyond the school gates and into the private space of the individual, being told “you’re different and that’s a problem” would take its toll on anyone, there is no escape. People are trying to develop tech to tackle this problem, to support young people when they’re targeted but as one solution is found, a different problem will occur, we’re running to keep up!

Rates of self harm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders in young people are all on the rise – this is very worrying and mental health services are not able to keep up with demand. The government target is for any young person presenting with mental health symptoms to be seen within 4 weeks, this target just isn’t being met. Listen to BBC Radio Berkshire on Monday at 7am for more on this!

I did, however, have a very positive experience with social media while on the road to recovery. Berkshire Eating Disorders Service piloted a Support, Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON) – an internet based forum for people suffering with eating disorders and their affected family members. Anonymous online support could never replace the important face-to-face therapy necessary to re-build a life destroyed by illness. However, the forum was very well designed and I would not have managed the multiple challenges I faced during recovery, if I hadn’t had the incredible support I received from fellow sufferers and professionals day and night at the touch of a button.

Young people these days do not have an easy job navigating changes as they happen. We all have a responsibility to support each other.

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