Teen mental health in an online world

Teen mental health in an online world

The media is replete with dystopian tales of the negative effects of social media on young people. In a recent speech, Simon Stevens (chief executive of the NHS) suggested that the Government should consider introducing a ‘mental health levy’ to fund NHS treatment of problems fuelled by sites such as Facebook and Instagram. But how accurate is this picture and what does the evidence tell us? Earlier in the year, my co-author James Woollard and I set about understanding the views and experiences of young people with mental health difficulties in our book Teen Mental Health in an Online World. We combined a review of the evidence with a series of qualitative interviews and focus groups with young people. Our mission was to give space to young people’s voices and provide a useful guide to mental health and other practitioners who work with them. Contrary to what one might believe from the media, we found a mixed picture with both positive and negative effects. Our qualitative findings are reflected in a recent representative survey of 1,141 American teens age 13-17  Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences (Common Sense Media 2018) which uncovered some interesting insights. Firstly, most teens say that social media has a positive effect in their lives, such as making them feel less lonely. Secondly, and more relevant to our book, whilst vulnerable teens are more likely to report negative effects of social media (such as feeling left out) they are nevertheless more likely to report the positive benefits of social media in their lives, such as helping them feel less lonely and depressed. Social...
Connected realities – what do practitioners need to know about teens’ online lives?

Connected realities – what do practitioners need to know about teens’ online lives?

“What if we thought about the internet a resource to be deployed rather than as a problem to be solved?” (Jenkins et al, 2016, p.36)  What if we move our focus from a deficit orientated understanding of the online lives of teens to an asset-orientated approach which builds on young people’s strengths? And what does this mean for practitioners working with teens who have mental health difficulties? Perhaps there are better ways of approaching teens’ online lives that enable us to be more effective practitioners. I am endlessly intrigued by teens’ use of the internet, social media and digital technologies. It is a fascination brought about in equal parts from observing my three teenagers and from the many and various projects we do with teens at mHabitat. I am particularly curious about how health and care practitioners help teens navigate the digital sphere (or not) in their everyday work. Practitioners are worried about the impact of social media on teens, concerned about risk, and at the same time drawn to how apps could help deliver care. Meanwhile teens are frustrated about adults’ lack of understanding about their online lives and are looking for guidance and support which is often lacking. This set of disconnected realities between teens and practitioners is the subject of a book I am writing with Dr James Woollard. It is a guide for practitioners to help them explore, understand and appreciate teens’ online lives; and to enable them to incorporate this understanding into their work with adolescents affected by mental health difficulties. The book will bring together the evidence along with stories derived from my...
Layers of delight (and the joy of online social networks with my teens)

Layers of delight (and the joy of online social networks with my teens)

Ok, so I know there are plenty of aspects of online social networks that are problematic. Particularly for teens. But sometimes I reflect on ways in which online social networks, and our smartphones, afford layers of connection between myself and my three children (12, 14 and 17) which give me unmitigated joy and delight. Things are expressed that would never be said face to face. Experiences can be shared even when we are far apart. We can collaborate in novel and pleasurable ways. Here are just ten examples… Sharing special moments from afar – the time when my daughter allowed me to share her first experience of Glastonbury festival by sending me WhatsApp video clips of the moment when she met her favourite music artist Helping each other out – all the times when my daughter asks for my advice on her clothing purchases via Facetime from shop dressing rooms Bad humour– the atrocious comedy memes and GIFs via WhatsApp from my son Saying what can’t be said in person – my daughter congratulating me on passing my PhD viva via text message when she could only be tetchy to my face Liking my stuff – when my son hearts my Instagram posts and his friends (bizarrely) start following my account Keeping a close but surreptitious eye – my daughter blocking me on Facebook only to allow her BFF to friend me so that she can spy on my posts via her account Sharing the love – my daughter sending me heart emojis and telling me she loves me via WhatsApp when she will never say it to my...
From online social networks to codesign in digital health

From online social networks to codesign in digital health

I set this blog up just over four years ago in January 2012 both to record my online ethnographic PhD research and with the hope of having conversations that would help inform my thinking and enable me to share my learning along the way. After four years of working full time, compressing five days into four and doing research on the extra day I’d squeezed out of the week, I finally had my viva on Friday. I passed the assessors’ grilling with four minor corrections and am basking in a profound sense of relief and delight in equal measure. My research was about online social networks and mental health with a heavy focus on the now departed The World of Mentalists blog and ecosystem around it. I have many people to be grateful to for in helping me think about this topic over the last four years. In particular I’d like to thank all my interviewees for sharing their time and expertise (you know who you are) and to everyone who welcomed me into the madosphere. I’d also like to thank Phil, Mark, Sue, James and Kat for many a Skype, phone call, meet up and often conference podium where we shared our thinking about mental health and online social networks with various audiences. During those four years  my interests have developed beyond online social networks to digital technologies in health, with a particular focus on co-design and ethics. I’ve clocked up 133 posts on this blog and recently changed its title  to reflect those broader interests. A few years ago I set up mHabitat which comprises an ever...
Is digital technology a technical or adaptive problem in health?

Is digital technology a technical or adaptive problem in health?

Around three years ago I was invited to speak at a consultant psychiatrists committee meeting about social media and digital technology. I was mid way through my PhD and steeped in online ethnographic research about how people accessing mental health services and practitioners were making use of social networks. I had an inkling that I would have a mixed audience and I knew that not everyone would share my (then*) enthusiasm. As such I spent time preparing a range of compelling examples of digital technologies and social media practices, determined as I was to win over any detractors. I arrived a little early and so listened in to the tail end of an exasperated discussion about the various grinding limitations, obstacles and shortcomings of the in-house electronic patient record (EPR). If my audience’s primary experience of technology in health was such a bad one, then this did not bode well for my presentation – I quickly realised I was going to have to recalibrate. How could I be so naive as to think a conversation about the future potential of digital technologies would be welcomed, when the basics of reliable and effective electronic patient records seemed like a pipe dream? This experience came back to me whilst reading The Digital Doctor – Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age (Wachter, 2015) which is dominated by an expansive analysis of the shortcomings of contemporary electronic patient records. Wachter argues that EPRs have brought many a physician ‘to their knees’ with their clunky, confusing and complex systems (73). It is salutary to note that three years on...
Young people, social media and the ethics gap

Young people, social media and the ethics gap

“Adults ruined Facebook. Don’t do the same with Instagram. And don’t you DARE go anywhere near Snapchat!” This was the anguished cry of my teenager during a treasured moment of increasingly elusive mother/daughter conversation. Her plea reflects a wider shift in online teenager behaviour away from more public social networks towards more private ones such as Snapchat. As Facebook becomes more domesticated amongst adults, it appears that teenagers are heading to their own more private and separate spaces. The very idea that I might set up a Snapchat account was enough to fill my teenager with abject horror. So back to our conversation. I was secretly keen to check out ideas considered in Disconnected – Youth, New Media and the Ethics Gap (Carrie James, 2014) which I have just finished reading. The author considers how young people address ethical issues and moral dilemmas relating to privacy, property and participation online. Based on numerous interviews with young people aged 10 to 25 she found positive examples of highly ethical behaviour that evinced a ‘play nice’ mindset and which respected the privacy of others. However, she also found thoughtless, dismissive and occasionally callous behaviours towards others. Not surprisingly for young people who are still developing their sense of identity, attitudes were often highly individualistic and tended to focus predominantly on consequences of antisocial behaviour for the self rather than for others: Self-centred stances are not surprising given that egocentrism often characterises the adolescent and emerging adult phases of development. However, the dominance of egocentric thinking is problematic online, given the deeply social nature of the Internet and the qualities and opportunities...