Experts from Google, Facebook and representatives from civil society, including Youth Mental Health Ambassador Nikki Mattocks, gathered in Bruxelles to share expertise and experience on how to prevent, protect and improve youth mental health online. More than 80 participants attended the event to discuss the digitalisation of society as both a risk and an opportunity for mental health.
As European Commissioner for Health M. Andriukaitis said “to promote good mental health and prevent mental illness, we need to work across all policy areas, not least in the education, employment, digital society and social sectors. This is not a matter for Health Ministers alone.”
Nearly 90% of European young people aged 16-24 use the Internet every day. Young people, schools and families are facing new challenges linked to mass digitalisation including online hate speech, cyberbullying and harassment on social media. Such online behaviour can have a devastating impact on young people’s mental health, their identity and development. At present, one in five adolescents in Europe are affected by at least one mental health problem in any given year.
The European Union, together with Members States, civil society and the digital industry must ensure that young people are not only protected online but can also access the information and support they need on the internet. Existing frameworks must ensure a safer online environment for young people in Europe. Stressing the importance of protecting young people online, MHE President Nigel Henderson recalled that “about half of the mental health problems in adults are estimated to have their onset during adolescence, the digital age is an opportunity but let’s also make sure people are grounded in their communities”.
Participants agreed that the Internet and social media provide a great opportunity to prevent mental ill health in young people. As MEP Miriam Dalli emphasized “we must focus on helping children and young people create positive content, have empathy and act responsibly”. The event was also an occasion to discuss the role of the digital industry in the prevention and promotion of positive mental health for young people. Representatives from Google and Facebook shared existing tools on how to ensure online security for young people and therefore protect their mental health. Julie de Baillencourt presented the Facebook Suicide Prevention tool as an effective means to support a friend or report a worrying post.
There are many good things about social media, it helps us to be connected and it can be a distraction, but we are living in a world where we check our phones before we check our fire alarms. We post selfies but we don’t like ourselves. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook but only trust 3 of them. Social media is both a blessing and a curse. As a society we need to make sure that we are aware of how much time we spend on it, what we are posting, and the effect it has on those around us.
Cover photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images