THE BLOG

Young People Being Denied Access to Mental Health Support Online

14/01/2014 17:32 GMT | Updated 16/03/2014 09:59 GMT

This scenario I am about to set may be an upsetting one, but is a very real one. I apologise in advance if anyone is distressed by the following and have included links to support helplines at the bottom (if your ISP hasn't blocked them that is...):

Imagine this: Your little brother, sister, cousin, niece, nephew, even daughter or son, is trying to find out whether what she hears in her head or feels every day is normal. She/he goes online to search for answers, hoping that they're not the only person to feel this way, that they're not weird or alone. Ah, they've found a reputable mental health organisation which explains what they're feeling and can provide them with the support that they need the most. They click on it. It's blocked. They have to ask their parents or guardian to get it unblocked. But the whole reason they searched for it on the internet was because they're too afraid to tell an adult, in case they're deemed as a 'weirdo' or 'locked up'. So, they suffer in silence and perhaps never get the help that they need.

This is exactly what is happening thanks to Cameron's new internet filtering laws; mental health content and even forums which provide support are being BLOCKED. According to an article on New Statesman everything from ChildLine to Refuge has become inaccessible to those under the age of 18. The New Statesmen article goes into further detail about the internet service providers filtering content automatically:

"As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on "violent material", "extremist related content","anorexia and eating disorder websites" and "suicide related websites", "alcohol" and "smoking". But the list doesn't stop there. It even extends to blocking"web forums"and "esoteric material"..."

Minds Like Ours, a mental health non-profit organisation aiming to raise awareness and provide support, was next in the internet service providers' firing line. Mobile phone network O2 now provide the following message when those with content filtering (under 18s or adults who have not removed the block) try to access the Minds Like Ours website, including the support and helplines pages:

2014-01-14-o2.jpg

A young volunteer for Minds Like Ours, who uses the website on a daily basis, said:

"It's senseless, at the end of the day, as we all know, mental health doesn't discriminate, and people below 18 will find it difficult enough coming to terms with an MH issues nevermind the government isolating them more!"

Gemma Clark, a multimedia journalism student at Glasgow Caledonian University, penned an open letter to O2 which was publicised on the Minds Like Ours website. The letter was directed at the mobile phone operator, but also at the other internet service providers filtering mental health related content. Gemma's eloquent letter points out that:

"There are 6 million young people in the UK and 20% of under 18s currently suffer from mental health issues. Shockingly, 10% of these are aged under 15.

In blocking sites like ours from their eyes you are removing what might possibly be the only support they are able to access, as fear and misunderstanding play a huge part in mental disorders."

A petition was also set up, asking the government to rethink their 'blanket' method that is preventing young people from accessing vital mental health support. Surely, blocking mental health related websites will do far more harm than good? What will denying young people information, resources and support networks possibly achieve? Other than a new generation of adults who are too terrified to talk about their mental health issues or seek out support when they need it most. There are so many campaigns to stop mental health discrimination, raise awareness, reduce the risk of suicide and so on, yet what's to say that these will not be the next hidden and filtered websites underneath the ISP blanket of what is not suitable for young people's eyes.

Is mental health awareness going backwards in time? Or will the government realise their mistake and reopen these resources to the millions of young people who need them so badly?

Links:

Mental health helplines

Dear Internet Service Providers Filtering Content - Why Can't Young People Access Mental Health Support? Open letter from Minds Like Ours to internet service providers

Petition to Stop the harmful and unnecessary filtering of mental health websites and forums

New Statesman article "Cameron's internet filter goes far beyond porn - and that was always the plan"