Posted on 9/07/2018 by David Burgess
Social media giants like Facebook should be forced to release their “insidious grip” on young people, the head of the NHS has said.
Backing The Telegraph’s campaign for a “duty of care” to web users, Simon Stevens said such firms should face up to their responsiblities, fuelling pressures on today’s children.
Last month the chief executive of NHS England promised a “major ramp-up” of mental health services, in order to deal with the fallout for an explosion of social media.
Today he urged social media companies to get their house in order, by doing more to protect children from addictive habits and dangerous content.
The father of two told The Telegraph: “Social media companies must face up to their responsibilities. There is emerging evidence of a link between semi-addictive and manipulative online activities and mental health pressures on our teenagers and young people.
“Parents are only too aware of the insidious grip that some of these activities can have on young people’s lives."
While the NHS was expanding mental health services in a bid to offer help to those in need earlier, he said society needed to go further, to protect the young.
“We need to think about prevention as well as cure so that families and the NHS are not just left to pick up the pieces,” he said.
“Companies have a responsibility not just to put in place appropriate protections for children but to do their bit to increase our understanding of these issues.”
Earlier this year the Health Secretary asked Prof Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, to undertake a review examining the impact of technology on children’s health and consider the evidence on what constitutes a healthy amount of screen time.
Mr Stevens said it was vital that measures are introduced to protect children from some of the harms associated with web exposure.
“The chief medical officer’s review is welcome and her findings should act as a spur to action,” he said.
It comes after The Telegraph launched a Duty of Care campaign calling for more stringent regulation of sites like Facebook and Instagram, in order to protect children from harm.
The NHS chief, who has two young children, is particularly concerned that children are increasingly becoming hooked on online habits, in a way that damages their growth.
Warning of a an “epidemic of young people’s mental health and distress” he last month drew attention to the recent classification of gaming addiction as a disorder, by the World Health Organisation.
Social media companies have been repeatedly been asked by ministers to “become part of the solution” to mental distress among the young.
The firms have been asked to do more to tackle cyber bullying, prevent young children accessing sites that are supposed to have age restrictions and warning alarms or pop-up messages which discourage heavy use, or higlight concerning patterns of use.
But ministers have been dissatisfied by the responses coming from firms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Google.
In December Mr Hunt angrily urged Facebook to “stay away from my kids” after its US site set up a version aimed at young children. Mr Hunt is concerned that overexposure to social media is fuelling anxiety, depression and self-harm as children grow up.
Statistics published later this year are set to show that the level of undiagnosed mental health problems and distress among young people is much higher than has officially previously been recorded.
The last comprehensive survey data on young people’s mental health dates from 2004 when it was found that around one in ten young people aged between 5 and 16 had a clinically diagnosed mental disorder.
Separate research suggests young women have become the most high risk group in society, with one in four among those aged between 18 and 24 having self-harmed.