Social media and youth mental health

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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Dear Editor,

Today, October 10, 2018, countries across the world celebrate World Mental Health Day under the theme, 'Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World'. Given that mental health has become a topical issue in recent times, I was happy to note that our Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton recently outlined strategies and interventions which his ministry has implemented and will implement in the near future to bolster our country's capacity to respond to the mental health needs of the population.

Given the theme of this year's World Mental Health Day it is most fitting to consider the impact of modern technological developments, including the introduction and use of various social media platforms, on the mental health of young people as one feature of the changing world that young people are called upon to navigate.

In a U-Report Jamaica Poll, conducted on August 27, 2018, approximately 47 per cent of about 892 respondents said that they believe that social media has the greatest impact on youth mental health, and approximately 86 per cent of 798 respondents said that they think that social media has the potential to be a toxic environment.

As it relates to the amount of time spent on social media, approximately 44 per cent of the 782 respondents said they used social media for about 0-5 hours per day, while 27 per cent of the respondents said they used social media for 6-10 hours per day.

When you take stock of these findings you see that 71 per cent of the respondents spend at least 105 hours per week on social media, which amounts to 420 hours a month on various social media platforms that U-reporters themselves have said can be toxic environments.

Notwithstanding that, social media platforms do have their benefits, including most notably the increased levels of communication and connectivity they provide. There are also drawbacks such as cyber-bulling, misrepresentation and false advertising or the promotion by individuals of lifestyles which do not comport with certain realities and are largely unattainable for many people.

Exposure to these pitfalls of social media use can seriously affect the mental health of young people and, in some cases, even cause them to experience suicidal ideation and, beyond that, actually attempt to take their own lives. As young people are at a particularly formative stage of their development, and while they cannot be shielded entirely from the pitfalls of social media access and use, it is important to provide a space in which they can be adequately sensitised about the benefits and pitfalls of social media, which is fast becoming the principal mode of engagement between youth and their peers as well as the wider world.

Additionally, in light of the view shared by our nation's young people about social media's potential to be a toxic environment, general mental health sensitisation via this medium might very well be one of the most effective means of getting young people to become more mental health-literate and understand the importance of engaging in practices that promote good mental health.

The question I then leave for us to consider is: Being aware of all these realities, what can we, as a society, do to help and support our young people in this changing world as they seek to navigate virtual spaces with their own unique pitfalls, nuances and complexities?

Joneil Powell

JYAN Advocacy Council

jonielpowell@gmail.com

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