Can social media be used as a tool to help improve wellbeing in young people?

We have known for many years now the links between socialising, positive relationships, good health and wellbeing. It is a fundamental part of being human. We need to feel connected to others to feel safe and practice the exploration of self-identity; and never has this connectivity been more accessible than since the invention of the internet. However, this doesn’t come without risks and some are sceptical as to the benefits. They believe that it could put our young people in danger and in the long-run it will do more harm than good. Fears of cyberbullying are of particular concern and a cause for great anxiety among the general public.

social media keyboard

Not for Drs’ Edwards and Wang though; in the following study: Strangers are friends I haven’t met yet: a positive approach to young people’s use of social media, they look more positively at the impact the use of various social media tools can have on young people when used as a way of building and maintaining close relationships. Quantitative data is collected through surveys and analysed to establish how various (8) social media platforms are used in terms of relationship maintenance strategies. However, the findings do not necessarily represent generalisable trends, a much larger scale study would be needed instead, its purpose is to guide subsequent qualitative explorations. Although not focussing specifically on wellbeing, the study suggests that the use of these social media tools by young people is primarily to,

“support and protect those with whom relationships have been carefully established,” and, “to provide them with a challenging space to practice identity and relationship management strategies,”

All of which are vital to protecting wellbeing in a culture where self-identity is managed within an increasingly complex network of social relationships for which online communities can support this process and also a sense of belonging.

socialmedia-teens3

To achieve a positive state of wellbeing young people must feel safe, connected and supported by those around them, especially those who they feel closest to. Prior to common use of the internet and social media, social settings in which this happened were face-to-face in groups or one-to-one. School sites however, can be unnatural settings in which relationships and young peoples’ identities are managed in the context of social hierarchies and sometimes in response to peer pressures. The use of phatic technology, or communications (social) technology used for the purpose of relationship building, via various social media platforms appear to allow young people to do much the same but in an environment where exploring identities feels safer as they are able to gauge the response of their peers before committing themselves to a particular identity and seek out those who are like-minded. The eight various social media platforms in this study appear to be able to provide young people with an online community in which bonding and self-expression may be practiced safely and without fear of judgement, therefore supporting the building of a community which could positively affect the wellbeing on young people in the long-term. However, further studies are required to measure the impact.

Victoria Wang & Simon Edwards (2016) Strangers are friends I haven't met yet: a positive approach to young people's use of social media, Journal of Youth Studies, 19:9, 1204-1219

European Network for Social and Emotional Confidence – Conference on ‘Diversity’, Sweden and Finland June 2017

Perhaps there has never been a more important time to address the complex issues that we all face throughout the world in this time of tremendous change and mass flight of people. ENSEC is devoted to the development and promotion of evidence-based practice in relation to socio-emotional competence and resilience amongst school students in Europe.

Diversity-Conference-pic-1-June17

Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten presented two papers at the conference on ‘Diversity’, one on mental health and wellbeing of care leavers and one on childhood obesity and bullying. Here is the link to the relevant PowerPoints and publications.

Professor Håkan Stattin from Örebro University, Sweden, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Sweden provided a keynote on adolescent agency. His message was that research around parenting styles needs to take account of the fact that young people are individuals, with their own personality and temperament, as such parent-child interaction is a two-way street: “Parents respond to youths the same way they do to other people – approach those who are friendly and open and avoid those who are unfriendly and sullen”:

Diversity-Conference-pic-2-June17Professor Peter Smith Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, summarised issues around cyber-bullying research and specifically the need for more qualitative research, cross-cultural research and the need for more research with a focus on ethnic minority students.

ENSEC is open to researchers and practitioners working in the area of social and emotional education in Europe. While the main focus of the Network is on what goes in Europe, the network seeks to establish collaboration and dialogue also with individuals and organisations outside of Europe.

For more information and Membership of ENSEC, see website: http://enseceurope.org/?page_id=82:

There are two main entry criteria for membership, namely:

  • the applicant must be a researcher (including PhD students) and/or practitioner working in the area of social and emotional education
  • the applicant must be affiliated to a not-for-profit organisation

Members from European countries are eligible for full membership while those from outside Europe may join as associate members. Membership is free of charge. Members may also register for the network journal, the International Journal of Emotional Education, free of charge.

 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness Event (8th of May) – How can we improve mental health in children & young people?

Increasing numbers of young people experience high levels of anxiety, stress and depression. This can have a massive impact on their health, relationships and future options. The Mental Health Foundation draws attention to the fact that “good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem.”

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten gives a warm welcome to the morning's keynote speaker - Alison Jeffery and panelists: Sarah Darton, Emma Maynard and Melanie Goddard
Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten gives a warm welcome to the morning’s keynote speaker – Alison Jeffery and panelists: Sarah Darton, Emma Maynard and Melanie Goddard

Key questions here are – 

  • How many of us are surviving or thriving, and what is the difference between the two?
  • Why are some communities under strain and what can the government do to support them to thrive?
  • What steps can we take to look after our mental health, build resilience and cope with the demands of life?
  • To provide a greater understanding of this highly topical and constantly developing area, the MICE Hub hosted a special event to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (8th – 14th of May).
Keynote speaker Alison Jeffery discusses "mental health as everyone's business: emotional wellbeing in education, safeguarding and city wide children's services
Keynote speaker Alison Jeffery discusses “mental health as everyone’s business: emotional wellbeing in education, safeguarding and city wide children’s services

The event took place on Monday 8th May from 10.30am to 3pm in the University’s St George’s Building, 141 High Street, Portsmouth. Keynote speakers were Alison Jeffery, Director of Children’s Services at Portsmouth City Council,  who talked about ‘Mental health as everyone’s business: emotional well-being in education, safeguarding and city wide children’s services’ and Dr David Harper from the University of East London who looked at ‘Rethinking Approaches to Mental Health Stigma’.

In addition to this there were contributions from national charities, such as Family Links, Wessex Academic Health Science Network and academics and research staff from the University of Portsmouth and beyond.

Sarah Darton welcome questions from the audience
Sarah Darton welcomes questions from the audience on the topic of Mental Health, Wellbeing and Families

This was a thought-provoking day, with talks ranging from mental health and wellbeing in early childhood, midwifery, through to mental health in schools and HE and wellbeing of care leavers and mental and social work. In her keynote Alison Jeffery focussed on the MH strategy in Portsmouth and what is being done to support children and young people (and what needs to be done). Melanie Goddard from the Roberts Centre (child focused charity in Portsmouth) talked about programmes and support for young care leavers and birth mothers, whilst Sarah Darton from the national charity Family Links focused on emotional health and resilience in children and families in her talk.  The need to see the bigger picture and engage with family stories and narratives was echoed by Emma Maynard in her session on engaging family narratives.

 

MHAE-Gina-Sherwood-introduces-panelists
The University of Portsmouth’s Dr. Gina Sherwood introduces the panel – Sarah Darton, Emma Maynard and Melanie Goddard, and invites questions from the audience.

Dr David Harper, director of clinical psychology programmes at UEL discussed approaches to mental health stigma, highlighting that there is a need to tackle the stereotyping of MH issues that appears to specifically exist amongst young people. Mental Health in HE was also discussed, with Denise Meyer, Head of Welbeing, UoP flagging up the support services that are available in the University, such as the WhatsUp app. Alison Griffiths, programme manager mental health at Wessex Academic Health Science Network flagged up that 20-24 year olds account for the largest number of mental health emergency departments attendances, 8% of which are University students; Clare Wilson from the University of Portsmouth discussed the need for mental health support groups and the research that she has done around in.

Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten thanks the keynote speakers and panelists for their time and effort preparing such informative content for the event.

 

Taken as a whole, there was lots of evidence of good practice, but the need for more work on this front was also consistently highlighted.