The UK is facing a mental health crisis and social networks need to help shoulder the blame, NHS chief warns

It’s no secret we’re living in the midst of a burgeoning mental health crisis in the UK, which many critics claim is assisted by our increasingly connected world. And, with the soaring number of young people seeking psychiatric help, the NHS is being left to pick up the pieces.

The UK is facing a mental health crisis and social networks need to help shoulder the blame, NHS chief warns

At the annual NHS confederation conference, the head of NHS England has warned of a mental health epidemic in the UK, and has urged social media firms to help by taking responsibility.

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 “It is obvious there is more unmet need for young people’s mental health services than probably any other part of the health service,” Simon Stevens, the body’s chief executive said, addressing the conference. “The conversation, though, around young people’s mental health has got to be wider than just about what the NHS can do.”

And it’s true, social media firms like Facebook or Instagram and Snapchat – which are used widely among teens – have a duty of care, something Stevens alluded to in his keynote.

“This is certainly about schools, but we also have to ask some pretty searching questions around the role of technology companies, social media, and the impact that that is having on childhood,” he went on to say. “So, this cannot be a conversation that is simply left to the National Health Service to pick up the pieces – for an epidemic of mental health challenge for our young people induced by other factors across our economy.”

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In fact, the NHS appears to be suffering under the pressures of the increase in child mental health problems quite badly. A Care Quality Commission report, published late last year, found that children were waiting up to 18 months before accessing treatment. 

Elsewhere, in a recent survey from children’s rights charity Plan International UK, nearly half of 11-18-year-old girls admitted that social media made them feel like they had to act or look in a certain way, and it joins a  plethora of otherstudies looking at social media and mental health.

Stevens also addressed the surging problem of obesity, telling the conference “it is absolutely true we need to be more physically active,” but that “by itself is not going to deal with what’s happening to our food and drink calorific environment.”

The NHS’ boss’ comments come ahead of the health service’s 70th anniversary next month. Theresa May has pledged a long-term multi-year funding settlement for the NHS, promising to take the views of “NHS leaders” into account.

That should hopefully decrease mental health service waiting times, but pumping money into the NHS sort of feels like it’s just putting a band aid over the problem. While it’s unclear what the root cause of the mental health epidemic is, it’s evident social media has a role to play in it. 

If you are feeling suicidal, depressed, are worried about your mental health, or are concerned about a friend or loved one, the Samaritans offer confidential support. Call 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or go to the Samaritans website for more details and support.

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