Children’s mental health week in Holyrood

Tuesday 12th February 2019

Effects of screen time and social media on children and young people’s mental health

During children’s mental health week (4th to 10th February) the chief medical officers (CMOs) of the four UK nations published guidance on screen time for young people.

The report advises parents to monitor children and young people’s screen time but stops short of recommending specific limits.

A study on the effects of ‘screen-based activities’ such as social media use, watching online videos and gaming on the mental health and wellbeing of children was commissioned by the four CMOs.

Researchers at University College London reviewed existing evidence to determine whether there was a link between children spending large amounts of time sat in front of screens and negative health outcomes.

While some research had found associations between mental health issues and high levels of phone, TV and computer use, the study did not find evidence of a causal link between the two.

The chief medics said ‘cause and effect are not yet fully understood’ and further research is needed to identify any causal links.

They recommend parents take a precautionary approach and ensure screen time does not displace other activities essential for a child’s development – including physical activity, good quality sleep and meaningful interaction with family members.

This includes leaving phones outside bedrooms at night and screen-free meal times.

Parents are also advised to lead by example, avoiding excessive phone or laptop usage in front of children and behaving online as they would in person.

Elsewhere, the group is calling on industry to act ‘proactively’ and draw up a voluntary code of conduct setting out how they safeguard children and young people.

Education Scotland and its UK counterparts are also asked to introduce compulsory sex and relationships education that includes content on internet safety and online risks.

At First Minister’s Questions, children’s mental health week was highlighted by Mary Fee, Labour MSP for West Scotland.

The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who was standing in for Nicola Sturgeon, told MSPs the Scottish Government would “beproducing guidance on the healthy use of social media. The guidance will be designed in collaboration with young people and will seek to address some of the issues they face around social media and mental well-being”.

Funding & NHS improvement plans

As announced in December in the Scottish Budget for 2019-20, the Scottish Government intends to increase direct investment in mental health services by £27m, taking overall funding for mental health to £1.1bn.

Over the next five years, £250m has been allocated specifically to improve children and young people’s mental health outcomes.

The most recent programme for government set out a package of measures to improve mental health outcomes in Scotland, including over£60m for additional school counselling services and 350 counsellors.

An additional 250 school nurses are to be funded with £20m alongside 80 additional counsellors in further and higher education settings.

In December 2018 the better mental health in Scotland delivery plan was published and included a number of actions to reform children and young people’s mental health services.

By April of this year, all NHS boards are expected to have mental health improvement plans in place “with clear milestones to be achieved over the next two years”.

Intensive psychiatric provision

Concerns over a lack of intensive psychiatric provision for young people, raised by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland in a report in December last year, were also highlighted during First Minister’s Questions.

The report stated some young people had been admitted to non-specialist wards while others had been admitted to adult psychiatric care units.

In response, Deputy First Minister, John Swinney said investment was neededto “strengthen what we might all agree are preventative interventions. If we do so, we will minimise the need for acute psychiatric interventions…

The earlier we can support young people, the greater our chance of reducing the need to admit young people to in-patient psychiatric units.”

I stress to Parliament the importance that we attach to handling and resolving such issues as part of an overall preventative approach, which will be in the best interests of young people in Scotland.”