Webwatch: Concern of social media impact on rise in self-harm among teenage girls
Social media use has contributed to a rise in self-harm among teenage girls, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested.
The Cabinet minister also accused digital platforms of doing “absolutely nothing” to enforce minimum age rules.
Asked about the causes of an increase in mental health problems among children and young people, Mr Hancock told The House magazine: “It’s a combination of prevalence and people being more willing to talk about it.
“I definitely think social media has got a part to play.
“If you look at the figures, there’s an increase in self-harm amongst teenage girls but not amongst teenage boys. And that implies that something happened in the last decade to increase the pressure on teenage girls.
“Now, thankfully that hasn’t yet been reflected in a material change in suicide rates, which is the ultimate failure of somebody’s mental health – suicide rates are currently at a seven-year low.
“But that implies that there is a problem in terms of the pressures being put on teenage girls and the consequences for their mental health.”
Mr Hancock said there should be a minimum and enforced legal age requirement to use social media sites.
“The terms and conditions of the main social media sites are that you shouldn’t use it under the age of 13, but the companies do absolutely nothing to enforce against that. And they should, I think that should be a requirement.
“You shouldn’t be on WhatsApp, according to their own terms and conditions, before you’re 16. And yet the pressures that people feel under when they’re on a WhatsApp group to respond, to wake up in the middle of the night to get back to messages – this is teenagers or young kids who aren’t even teenagers yet.
“So, if the company say that you shouldn’t be on it till 16, they should do something about that and they should empower parents to allow it to happen.
“So, I’ve asked the Chief Medical Officer to come forward with advice and guidance on the age-appropriate use of social media to include these things.”
Mr Hancock also said the NHS needs to be able to spot the signs of cancer earlier.
He said: “We have one of the best systems for treating cancer once it’s discovered in the UK.
“But, our cancer survival rates aren’t nearly as good as comparative countries because we don’t pick it up early enough.
“So, the system doesn’t spot the signs and individuals don’t present with the very early signs.
“You need to have the primary care and community care out there in the community preventing these problems getting worse.”
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