Technology

Social media giants urged to give free adverts to mental health services

An estimated 134,000 young people sought mental health support on social media last year, researchers said.

Social media giants should give free adverts to mental health services because local providers are failing to reach young people, according to a report.

Some 134,000 young people looked for mental health support online from friends, peers or professionals in the last year, a study by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) found.

However, the RSA said social media platforms appeared to be “a driver of ill health” as users turned to each other in place of seeking help from professional mental health services.

It also warned that unmoderated platforms risked directing young people to inappropriate sources of information and support.

Forums such as the Student Room were often commonly-used platforms for young people seeking to access peer-to-peer support, but researchers found impartial advice about treatment and signs and symptoms of mental illnesses were “hard to come by” for users.

The study, which looked at the issue both nationally and within Greater Manchester, noted that the Manchester Resilience Hub set up in the wake of the May 2017 Manchester Arena attack had been particularly effective at communication and engagement outreach to young people.

But beyond this, the report said there was a “noticeable difference” in Greater Manchester between the use of social media by support services and young people themselves, with popular bloggers and forums rather than formal service providers being actively responsive with young people talking about mental health concerns.

The study recommends that public services must make greater efforts to proactively reach young people starting a conversation about mental health online.

It has called for health bodies and social media companies to work together to develop a co-ordinated approach to tackling mental ill-health online, and suggested free targeted advertising for mental health services on social platforms.

a culture of openness among young people can lead us to being hostages to fortune as more awareness leads to more conversations that risk confusing and misdirecting young people to sources of information and advice which lack credibility

It also wants a pilot of an NHS “online 111” service in selected local authority areas to proactively work across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram and through forums, to respond to mental health concerns.

RSA researcher Tom Harrison said: “Our study estimates through analysing conversations online that 134,000 young people looked online to access mental health support last year – much of which came from supporting one another.

“However, a culture of openness among young people can lead us to being hostages to fortune as more awareness leads to more conversations that risk confusing and misdirecting young people to sources of information and advice which lack credibility.

“But social media is not only a platform for people to access mental health services – increasingly it appears to be a driver of ill-health in itself.

“This places a moral duty on still commonly-used platforms like Instagram and Facebook to help cash-strapped mental health providers reach the people who will benefit the most from professional advice and support.

“We also argue strongly that this would need to be matched with rapid and tangible improvements to access to treatment for young people.”

Dr Louise Theodosiou from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “Online platforms can be places where young people are able to speak openly about their unmet mental health needs in a way that they may not feel comfortable doing offline.

“But the high number of young people discussing such things as suicide online shows there is clearly an unmet need for services to work creatively with online providers to ensure young people know how to access professional help.

“We also have a lot of work to do in understanding the words young people use to describe their wellbeing needs.

“Understanding the meaning behind words such as ‘stress’, ‘tired’ and ‘help’ used by young men online could be key to this.”

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