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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Bishop warns young of social media risks

It is essential that the mental health of young people is protected from the potential harms of social media, a Catholic bishop has warned.

And Ben Bano, director of Welcome Me as I Am, which promotes mental health and dementia awareness in parish communities, has also advised that although social media can be a very valuable tool, it does have its risks, especially for vulnerable users.

The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Richard Moth, who is also the lead bishop for the Bishops’ Conference mental health project, told The Universe: “There is little doubt that the anxieties associated with social media use and abuse can cause harm.

“This is particularly prevalent in young people, who are so used to having social media as a part of their daily lives.

“An essential part of ensuring that young people are safe online is the consideration of their wellbeing and the potential impact which use of social media can have on it,” he added.

His comments come as a recent poll, commissioned by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), found that a vast majority of the British public think time spent on social media is harming young people’s wellbeing.

Four in five people support tighter regulation of the platforms to reduce perceived negative impact on issues like depression, anxiety, and lack of sleep, according to the survey, which was carried out by Populus in April with a representative UK-wide sample size of 2,000 adults.

Meanwhile, Mr Bano said that social media can be a “source of satisfaction” in connecting with the outside world and keeping in touch with family and friends, especially those who live further afield.

However, he echoed Bishop Moth and the poll, warning that it can also be a potential danger.

“The Holy Father reminds us that text messages and social media are a gift from God (World Day of Communications, 2014),” Mr Bano told The Universe. “But we have a duty to show how social media should be used sensitively and wisely,” he said noting that there is a risk of cyber bullying, as well as a threat that people may allow their real-life social relationships to be overtaken by social media.

“Overall, the research suggests that social media can present a distorted and exaggerated picture of our lives which is difficult to live up to in reality,” he warned.

Pointing out that posting pictures on social media sites could lead to others feeling jealous or down, Mr Bano said: “Our self-worth and our self-image can become distorted as we fail to live up to unrealistic expectations, for example through not having been to an event in which everyone seems to have had a good time or through comparing our body image unfavouraby with images on social media. All these factors can influence our mental health adversely.

“The Holy Father also reminds us that ‘it is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal’,” he continued.

“These words provide a helpful guide to a sensible and sensitive approach to using social media with those who might be vulnerable.”

Shirley Cramer, RSPH chief executive, said: “Social media is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about mental health.

“With its almost universal reach and unprecedented ability to connect people, social media holds vast potential to be a positive catalyst for good mental health.

“Yet there are risks, which if not addressed and countered, can cause significant problems for young people’s wellbeing.”

Welcome Me as I Am provides mental health awareness training for parish communities and can also provide nationally accredited Mental Health First Aid courses. For further information visit www.welcomemeasiam.org.uk

Picture: File photo of a child using a laptop computer. (PA).