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Social Media: Harm and Hindrance

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a UK children's charity, reveals that 18,778 children from ages 11 to 18 went to hospital for self-harm this past year. A 14% increase from last year's figure, 16,416, hints at a societal change. Childline helpline, a service run by the NSPCC, has shown that about 50 children a day are in need of counselling about self-harm. Teenagers between ages 13 to 17 are most likely to be hospitalizsd for various methods of self-injury, like cutting, pill overdosing, or self-inflicted burns.

Peter Wanless, chief executive at NSPCC, said that the overwhelming majority of these children are plagued by the need to "keep up with friends" on social media, unable to switch off their smartphones for fear of irrelevance. Speaking of the potential harm related to social media, Wanless said, "It is vital we confront the fact that an increasing number are struggling to deal with the pressures and demands of modern-day life, to such an extent they are inflicting terrible damage upon themselves."

For people aged older than 18, technology, while an integral part of daily life, is not quite as all-consuming as it is for young people: "We know this unhappiness is partly due to the constant pressure they feel, particularly from social media, to have the perfect life or attain a certain image which is often unrealistic. They tell us that the need to keep up with friends and the 24/7 nature of technology means they feel they can never escape or switch off, adding to the misery that many feel on a daily basis."

An NHS report from this year warned that social media was partly responsible for worsening mental health states for girls and young women. Since the last study, dated 2007, there has been a 21% increase in reported symptoms of common mental health conditions. Clearly, a drastic change has taken place in the past eight years: people have morphed into selfie-obsessed, carbon copies of perfection and happiness. We live in a society where Instagram accounts breed models and @homesquats is the gym-goers' #fitspo.

As a supplement to their findings, the NHS touted the need for better resources to help children deal with mental health issues tied to social media. Dr Max Davie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health offered his adjoining insight: "One way of providing this early intervention is for all schools to deliver comprehensive ... education, teaching children about emotional well-being and addressing challenging mental health issues such as eating disorders, self-harm and suicide."

In addition to the demands meted out by modern day life, Dr Jon Goldin, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and spokesman for the college, believes that the sexualisation of children in the media attributes to issue, "There are a lot of pressures on children. It is not easy being a child these days. In some ways children are encouraged to grow up too fast."

And yet ...

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A study conducted in Australia by the University of Melbourne and Monash University cross-examined 70 studies, focusing specifically on the relationship between social networking and depression, anxiety and well-being. Shockingly discordant with the NPCC's findings, Australian researchers discovered that social networks provide a channel over which people can connect with others and receive social support, especially useful for those who find face-to-face interactions difficult to navigate. Inspiring a sense of connectedness and belonging, social media does not hinder all.

Though, realistically, the aforementioned positive byproduct of social media is but a silver lining. The study also found that, unsurprisingly, social media did not benefit people who compared themselves to others, posted negative thoughts, or were addicted to social media; those people were found to be at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Peggy Kern, leader of the study from the University of Melbourne, said that people suffering from social anxiety were passive browsers on social media, abstaining from direct engagement with others. Those with depressive symptoms were given away by their overall negative posts.

"Social media provides not only a window into the thoughts and emotions that people choose to share, but also some of their behavioural patterns that may help or hinder mental health," said Kern.

In the Melbourne University magazine Pursuit, Kern further expands on the findings: "Across the studies, it appears that it's not so much that social media causes anxiety and depression, but that people have different ways of using social media, which may be more or less helpful." Those who actively compare their lives to others, "social comparison," are likely to be saddened when seeing another's vacation pictures on Facebook or touring a new home on a YouTube walkthrough whereas a relatively happy person will use social media as a tool to connect.

When it comes to down time, I'm perfectly happy to place my phone in a removed location and enjoy a temporary respite from the social realm. However, the age of technology has consumed the young. Subtle shifts indicate a turning tide on the world stage as we balance on the brink of a new age. Wearable tech and virtual reality hint towards a future not unlike the one portrayed by Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it). Older surveyors must find a way to ease the transition into the digital era ... and hop on board if we can.

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver). Follow her @Songbird_Jacqui

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Social Media: Harm and Hindrance Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, December 14, 2016 Rating: 5

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