05/11/2014 07:51 GMT | Updated 05/11/2014 08:59 GMT

MPs Make Connection Between Cyber Bullying And Mental Health Problems In Children

Cyber-bullying, sexting and the "isolation" of spending a long time online could be behind a rise in mental health problems among children, a group of MPs has warned.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of parliament's the Health Select Committee who was a GP before becoming an MP, said they had heard evidence that sexting and cyber-bullying had directly caused an increase in the number of children suffering stress and anxiety.

She also said there were questions over how being isolated in an "online world" was affecting mental health, if it meant children were not having "direct communication" with people as a result.

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Speaking as the committee presented a report about "serious and ingrained problems" in mental health services for children, the Tory MP said: "They were very clear about the dangers they've been hearing from people who are being harassed as a result of sharing sexualised images and cyber-bullying in general.

"The issue around the amount of time people spend isolated on video games, those issues are ones most people will be aware of.

"If you're exposed for two hours a night to violent video games, how much is that actually impacting on your mental health and also what is that doing in terms of your interpersonal communication if you're not actually having that direct communication with people, if you're becoming rather isolated in the online world."

Dr Wollaston added that the lack of data meant it could not be said whether the link between this and the 20 to 25% increase in mental health referrals was "causal or casual" and a Department for Health task force that was was set up to look at children's mental health should look investigate.

"We've heard evidence to say that's directly caused by the online world but that is something the task force should address," she said.

The comments come after a charity said the number of reported attempted suicides among children has risen 116% over three years.


Dr Wollaston said: "You can never get away from it, in the past if you were being bullied you could go home and that would be an area where you're not subject to bullying, what children face now is that bullying follows them way beyond the walk home or the classroom, it's there all the time.

"What we need is to recognise that the internet has great potential in support to young people but they need to know how they themselves can stop and block individuals who are harassing them."

Lucie Russell, director of campaigns and media at the charity Young Minds, told The Guardian: “The 24/7 online world has the potential to massively increase young people’s stress levels and multiplies the opportunities for them to connect with others in similar distress. Websites like Tumblr, where there has been recent media focus on self-harm blogs, must do all they can to limit triggering content and that which encourages self-harming behaviour.”

In the committee's report, MPs said there are "major problems" with access to inpatient mental health services for children and wide variations in the service across the country, with families facing "battles" to have children treated.