Mental health and young people in the digital age: risks and opportunities

  • News
  • 19/10/2016
  • BIK team

Recognising the correlation between risks and opportunities of intense digital activity and young people's mental health, on the occasion of World Mental Health Day 2016, Mental Health Europe (MHE) organised the ‘Mental health and young people in the digital age: addressing risks, seizing opportunities‘ event at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The discussion brought together stakeholders involved in fighting mental health issues generated or influenced in the online environment. It showcased, through a two-panel discussion, a series of lessons and best practices in the field.

In the first panel, MEP Miriam Dalli spoke about the multiple facets of digital connectivity which makes both risks and opportunities more accessible for youth, reminding attendees of how important it is to build self-confidence and resilience for young people as active creators of online content and catalysts for change. The European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis responded that, in order to tackle psychological problems that can be faced by young people, the Commission supports various programmes and projects, one of which is the EU-Compass for Action on Mental Health and Well-being, a mechanism to collect, exchange and analyse information on policy and stakeholder activities in mental health.

Martin Schmalzried (COFACE) presented the Delete cyberbullying project, explaining its objectives to raise awareness (such as The Big March virtual demonstration and the #DeleteCyberbullying app), exchange practices, develop tools and issue policy recommendations. Continuing this discussion, Nikki Mattocks (Youth Mental Health Ambassador) shared her cyberbullying experiences relating to the story of many other young victims of cyberbullying, who may end up suffering from mental health issues when lacking immediate help.

Julie de Bailliencourt (Facebook) wrapped up the first panel by explaining how Facebook aims to make the world more open and connected, while continuously working to make users feel safe on the platform. She gave concrete examples such as resources in the Family safety center, and dedicated wellbeing programmes created with experts such as ‘Help a friend in need', ‘End bullying be kind online' and ‘A guide for survivors of abuse'.

The second panel shifted the discussion to a different approach, starting with a presentation given by Hans Martens, Insafe Network Coordinator in the context of the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children. The work of the European network of Safer Internet Centres (SICs) was at the core of the presentation, as he explained the importance given by SICs to the mental health of children and young people in the current digital age, working together for a better internet for kids through a joint effort by awareness centres, helplines and hotlines.

Carrying on the discourse of European projects, Johannes Parkkonen explained how the Finnish Association for Mental Health (FAMH) was actively involved in a joint action for mental health and wellbeing, in a collective effort to prevent depression and suicide, support e-health and mental health, and to cooperate with schools.

Giving another industry perspective, Clara Sommier (Google) introduced relevant examples from the wide range of Google online tools helping young people, such as YouTube Creators for Change, a new initiative dedicated to amplifying the voices of role models who are tackling difficult social issues with their channels (like combating hate speech, xenophobia and extremism).

Closing the debate from a policy-maker perspective, MEP Julie Ward recognised the importance of education and digital literacy for children and young people as an important factor that can determine mental wellbeing in the digital age.

Acknowledging how, over the years, mental health has become a cross-cutting theme for many European policy areas, MHE launched Each of us - an anti-stigma and anti-discrimination campaign, with the aim of raising awareness of mental health issues and combatting related misconceptions.

More information on the event can be found in the MHE press release and on social media through the #ASKMHE16 hashtag.

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