It'll take more to tackle young people's mental health issues than just banning images on Instagram
Directing the blame at social media would only be appropriate if the government also vowed to take the same level of immediate and drastic action
It was a reassuring to see a quick response from Instagram and Facebook in acting responsibly to remove dangerous images of self-harm from their platforms. These are images that can, beyond doubt, have a severely negative impact on a person’s mental health.
Although I applaud government for taking on the issue, I can’t help but feel that the approach in pointing the blame at social media, while ignoring the responsibility for the failure that falls on its own shoulders, is a bit like throwing a bucket of water into a burning building, while clutching onto the matches that sparked the flames.
Noticeably of late, social media has been painted in an extremely negative light, increasingly cited as the reason young people are struggling with their mental health. While there are numerous and significant negatives that come with social media, there are plenty of positives too, so it is both dangerous and misleading to position it as the cause of all evil, while ignoring the economic and sociological factors that are significantly affecting a person’s mental health on a day-to-day basis.
In other words, social media is worryingly becoming the latest scapegoat that serves to distract us from the root cause of mental health issues among young people.
This week, as part of a campaign with Radio City Talk, Chasing The Stigma, the national mental health charity I founded in 2016, alongside other charities such as Papyrus, placed 226 children’s shoes on the steps of Liverpool’s St Georges Hall to represent the number of school children who took their own lives in 2017.
That’s 226 young lives that we tragically lost, with thousands of others left devastated and scarred in the aftermath.
Those lives mattered. Those children were categorically let down, not only by society, but also by the overstretched and underfunded services and support system that is simply not fit for purpose.
Directing the blame at social media would only be appropriate if the government itself took a portion of that blame and vowed to take the same level of immediate and drastic action that they demand of others.
It is absolutely essential that we continue to create, build and promote safe digital use and demand that technology firms act responsibly. But simply blocking these images won’t make the issue go away. Whether people can post images or not, our young people are still self-harming, our children are still taking their own lives.
It is not a case of out of sight, out of mind. In fact, treating it as such is extremely dangerous.
Poverty, inequality, unstable housing, family struggles and educational factors all play critical roles in the mental health of our young people. Children’s mental health services, and adults’ for that matter, are simply not good enough.
Too many services are being cut to the bone, while at the same time being expected to deliver the same level of care and support as before. They are overstretched, oversubscribed and severely underfunded. Is there any wonder we are seeing such devastating effects?
More needs to be done, not only to raise awareness of mental health, mental illness and everything in between, but also making that help and support as freely available and widely known as humanly possible. Otherwise we will continue to needlessly and tragically lose young lives across this country.
Too much is at stake to play politics or distraction games.
So, while I applaud the developments of the first official advice on screen time and social media, I implore the government to use this progress as a springboard to continue those conversations, responsibly and honestly to make a real difference and support the young people of this country, as they are in desperate need of that helping hand.
Jake Mills is a comedian, campaigner and founder of mental health charity Chasing The Stigma. To find your nearest mental health support service, visit the Hub of Hope