Are Smartphones Making Children Mentally Ill?

Julie Lynn Evans at her home in Hammersmith (Frances Leader/The Telegraph) Photo: Frances Leader/The Telegraph
Julie Lynn Evans at her home in Hammersmith (Frances Leader/The Telegraph) Photo: Frances Leader/The Telegraph

Julie Lynn Evans has been a child psychotherapist for 25 years, working in hospitals, schools and with families, and she says she has never been so busy.

“In the 1990s, I would have had one or two attempted suicides a year – mainly teenaged girls taking overdoses, the things that don’t get reported. Now, I could have as many as four a month.”

And it’s not, she notes, simply a question of her reputation as both a practitioner and a writer drawing so many people to the door of her cosy consulting rooms in west London where we meet. “If I try to refer people on, everyone else is choc-a-bloc too. We are all saying the same thing. There has been an explosion in numbers in mental health problems amongst youngsters.”

The Care Minister, Norman Lamb, has this week been promising a “complete overhaul” of the system that deals with these troubled tweens and teens, after a Department of Health report highlighted the negative impact of funding cuts. And the three main party leaders have all made encouraging pre-election noises about putting more resources into mental health services.

Yet, while the down-to-earth Lynn Evans welcomes the prospect of additional funding, this divorced, Canadian-born mother of three grown up children, isn’t convinced that it is the solution to the current crisis.

The floodgates of desperate youngsters opened, she recalls, in 2010. “I saw my work increase by a mad amount and so did others I work with. Suddenly everything got much more dangerous, much more immediate, much more painful.”

Official figures confirm the picture she paints, with emergency admissions to child psychiatric wards doubling in four years, and those young adults hospitalised for self-harm up by 70 per cent in a decade.

“Something is clearly happening,” she says, “because I am seeing the evidence in the numbers of depressive, anorexic, cutting children who come to see me. And it always has something to do with the computer, the Internet and the smartphone.”

Issues such as cyber-bullying are, of course, nothing new, and schools now all strive to develop robust policies to tackle them, but Lynn Evans’ target is both more precise and more general. She is pointing a finger of accusation at the smartphones – “pocket rockets” as she calls them – which are now routinely in the hands of over 80 per cent of secondary school age children. Their arrival has been, she notes, a key change since 2010.

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SOURCE: Peter Stanford
The Telegraph

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