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Suffolk survey finds depression in young people increases chances of harmful online behaviour

PUBLISHED: 12:46 16 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:46 16 November 2017

Suffolk County Council conducts a cybersurvey for young people every year. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Suffolk County Council conducts a cybersurvey for young people every year. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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Children experiencing feelings of depression are twice as likely to engage in dangerous online behaviour, a Suffolk cybersurvey has found.

Ezra Hewing, head of mental health education at Suffolk Mind. Picture: GREGG BROWNEzra Hewing, head of mental health education at Suffolk Mind. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The investigation, which has taken into account experiences of 3,142 young people from the county in education, also discovered those with mental health issues are more inclined to meet up with someone only known digitally, to use the internet to find new friends and to visit websites encouraging anorexia.

Tibbs Pinter, chief executive of Suffolk Young Peoples Health Project, also known as 4YP, said: “It’s concerning but I don’t think it’s unexpected.

“It’s sad that we haven’t got the local connections that young people feel confident enough to be able to connect one to one or with a group of people to discuss issues.”

However, Mr Pinter said the internet should not be completely demonised as it could be a platform for isolated young people to foster new friendships and support networks.

Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Councils cabinet member for childrens services, education and skills. Picture: JAMES FLETCHERGordon Jones, Suffolk County Councils cabinet member for childrens services, education and skills. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

“I think it’s a double-edged sword because there is an opportunity to connect but there’s also a chance they won’t connect on a one to one basis and we are very big on that,” he added.

Suffolk Mind is concerned about the impact of screen time on young people’s mental health.

Ezra Hewing, head of mental health education at the charity, said: “Research shows that social media, phone and tablet screens and games console use shapes the way we give and receive attention and seek the respect of others.

“Fast moving graphics and likes on social media give us quick hits of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in rewarding us for meeting emotional needs. If young people’s brains learn that they can get quick fixes when they are feeling low or in need of approval, they are less likely to learn the skills to build healthy relationships and to develop the resilience to cope with life challenges. This puts their mental health at risk.”

Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, said there had been a three-year downward trend in nearly all forms of online risk taking behaviour across all ages in Suffolk, but he recognised there was still work to be done.

He added: “It is important for parents to start delivering messages of online safety to children from a young age and sustain this support through their teen years.“

Suffolk County Council is currently gathering the views of young people for its next cybersurvey, which has been running for six years.

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