World Mental Health Day – Young people and mental health in a changing world

Wednesday, 10 October 2018, is World Mental Health Day. Launched in 1992 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), this initiative seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world. This year's theme is "Young people and mental health in a changing world". 

This year's focus on teenagers is highly relevant since studies show that 50 per cent of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, and 75 per cent begin by the age of 24. Worldwide, an estimated 10-20 per cent of young people experience mental health disorders. Yet, most cases are underdiagnosed and undertreated. The WHO quotes several factors accounting for this phenomenon: a desire for greater autonomy, pressure to conform with peers, exploration of sexual identity, and increased access to and use of technology. On this last point, the WHO notes that "the expanding use of online technologies, while undoubtedly bringing many benefits, can also bring additional pressures, as connectivity to virtual networks at any time of the day and night grows".

As to the negative effects social media can have on mental health, a recent study called #StatusofMind carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and the Young Health Movement pointed to the following:

  • Anxiety and depression – The rates of anxiety and depression have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years. Young people spending more than two hours daily on social media are more likely to report poor mental health. It has been proven that social media feeds anxiety and fuels feelings of inadequacy.
  • Sleep deprivation – Many studies have shown that increased social media use goes together with poor sleep quality among teenagers. Besides the detrimental effect of LED lights on sleeping patterns, the problem runs deeper and is directly related to screen time addiction: one in five young people have reported waking up during the night to check their messages on social media.
  • Poor body image – As many as 90 per cent of teenage girls reported feeling unhappy with their body. Studies have shown that women spending time on social media have more body image concerns than others. It is therefore no coincidence that cosmetic surgeons seek to alert the public opinion on the fact that an increasing number of patients want to have plastic surgery to look like the filtered versions of themselves that they see on apps like Snapchat and Facetune, a phenomenon dubbed "Snapchat dysmorphia".
  • Fear of missing out (FoMO) – FoMO is a form of social anxiety characterised by the constant fear of missing some important opportunity to interact socially. It is associated with lower mood and lower life satisfaction.

These issues are intrinsically linked to social media. Yet, there are other threats to young people's online wellbeing, this time posed by risky behaviours on the internet. These are the risks that the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) seeks to counter:

  • Cyberbullying – Seven in ten young people have experienced cyberbullying, a phenomenon that has serious real-life consequences: low academic performance, depression, anxiety, self-harm, feelings of loneliness, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and so on.
  • Sextortion – This term designates a situation in which people are talked into letting themselves be filmed carrying out sex acts, while at the same time being secretly recorded and then blackmailed by criminal gangs. Many agencies report a fast rise in the number of victims of sextortion. For example, in the United Kingdom, there were 1,304 cases reported in 2017, up from 428 in 2015.
  • Grooming – This term describes the act of distancing vulnerable young people from their parents and family using gifts and attention, with the objective of sexual abuse. This practice puts young people directly at risk of sexual exploitation, and can induce anxiety, depression, aggressiveness, low academic performance, changes in eating and sleeping habits, self-harm, risky behaviour and suicidal thoughts.

To protect young people from these online risks, SICs design and implement a wide range of initiatives in the field of online safety. Among these, the helplines provide information, advice and assistance to children, young people and parents on how to deal with harmful content, harmful contact and harmful conduct. You can read the latest helpline trends here.

In 2016, the Insafe network of SICs met to discuss the impact of technology on the health and wellbeing of children and young people. The Insafe Coordination Team also participates in relevant events at EU-level, such as the "Young people's mental health in Europe: promoting prevention and early intervention through multi-sector cooperation" symposium in April 2016 or the "Mental health and young people in the digital age: addressing risks, seizing opportunities" event at the European Parliament in October 2016.

Young people's online wellbeing is also a subject that matters strongly to European youth panellists, as demonstrated in the #TogetherForRespect campaign carried out by the 2017 participants and launched at the 2017 edition of the Safer Internet Forum (SIF).



Wellbeing will again be a topic of discussion at this year's Safer Internet Forum, taking place on Tuesday, 20 November 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. With a theme of "The impact of technology on children, young people and society", the SIF agenda includes sessions on the impact of technology on self-identity and personal relationships (including some real-life cases), alongside the impact of technology on society, and how various stakeholders can address the challenges. In a series of "deep dive" sessions featuring interactive debate, forum attendees will have the opportunity to explore issues and solutions around sexting, data privacy and deep fakes, learn more about online challenges and youth-led initiatives, and understand more about the reporting mechanisms for child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The forum will also see Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, present the winners of the #SaferInternet4EU Awards and further explore some of the outcomes of the #SaferInternet4EU initiative. Find out more and register online here.

Related news

Raising awareness for World Mental Health Day

  • News
  • 10/10/2016
  • BIK team

Since 1992, World Mental Health Day has been celebrated annually on 10 October. As we constantly switch between offline and online activities in everyday life, we may easily come across situations and content that can impact and leave traces on our mental health, be it in a very aggressive or extremely subtle way. Raising awareness about the importance of protecting our mental health has therefore become essential.

Young people's mental health: the role of technology and social media

On 26 April 2016, European Schoolnet was represented at the ‘Young people's mental health in Europe: promoting prevention and early intervention through multi-sector cooperation' symposium. Organised by Public Policy Exchange, the event brought together policymakers, stakeholders and experts with the opportunity to informally discuss measures taken and to be taken to improve mental health for young people in Europe.