MSPs call for study of social media impact on mental health

image source, Getty Images
image captionMSPs have been studying an increase in young people reporting mental health problems

MSPs have called for research to be carried out on the impact of social media on young people's mental health.

Holyrood's public audit committee has been studying a "significant increase" in the number of children and teens experiencing mental health problems.

Members wanted to find out if social media use could be a factor in rising demand for services, but were told that this was "not yet understood".

They urged ministers to commission "comprehensive research" on the topic.

The committee also called for better data to be collected on mental health provision for children, saying it was impossible to say if public services were making a difference.

The committee's report reflects on an Audit Scotland report published in September 2018, which said mental health services for children and young people were struggling to cope with increasing demand.

Mental health referrals for children and young people increased by 22% over the five years to 2017/18, when 33,270 were made. Of these, 7,199 were rejected - a 24% increase in rejections - and MSPs voiced concern that no data had been collected on why.

Among other "key issues", the committee wanted to find out "the extent to which the use of social media was having an impact".

Dame Denise Coia - who chaired a joint Scottish government and council taskforce on young people's mental health - told the committee that there was "not enough research evidence" to be sure, despite some "fantastic work" being done in schools.

And John Wood from council umbrella body Cosla told the committee that "we do not yet understand the impact of social media on young people's lives".

image source, Audit Scotland

The group's report concluded that "comprehensive research into the impact of social media on children and young people's mental health is required as an essential element of preventative action and early intervention".

They called on the government to commission such research or to provide details if it was already underway.

In December, Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey told MSPs that "technology has the potential to be used in a hugely positive way" to "connect and empower people, especially young people".

She said social media and other technology can be "especially powerful in the case of mental health, given that many people find it easier to describe how they feel online than in person".

She added: "It is important that we promote the healthy use of technology and, in particular, the healthy use of social media, as we are aware of the links between unhealthy social media use and poorer mental wellbeing in children and young people."

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