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LAST REVIEWED 7 November 2023

Why are so many children resorting to ‘social media DIY’ mental health support?

In this guest blog, Dr Nihara Krause MBE, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and CEO and founder of stem4, discusses the charity’s latest survey findings.


Dr Nihara Krause MBE

Consultant Clinical Psychologist and CEO and founder of stem4

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With an increasing number of teenagers in the UK facing mental health challenges, stem4 commissioned an important national survey to mark last month’s Youth Mental Health Day and its theme of #BeBrave.  

Sadly, the responses expose rising pressure on NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and reveals that children as young as 12 are now resorting to ‘social media DIY’ for help with their mental health as they struggle to get the support they need. 

In this blog, I’ll take you through the key findings from our ‘Anxious and at breaking point’ report. If you or someone you know needs mental health support, you’ll also find details of stem4’s award-winning apps and Good Thinking’s resources for young people.

Rise in anxiety 

stem4 teamed up with SurveyGoo to ask 1,025 12 to 21-year-olds across the UK a series of questions about their wellbeing. Our findings include:

  • Nearly six in ten (57%) 12 to 21-year-olds say they are in mental health distress but just 15% of those in need of support are receiving professional help or intervention.
  • A third (35%) of children, some as young as 12, say they are resorting to ‘social media DIY’ for help with their mental health. The proportion increases to nearly half (47%) in young people with anxiety and eating disorders or who self-harm.
  • Eight in ten (84%) 12 to 21-year-olds say they avoid situations so as not to feel anxious, with four in ten (41%) agreeing with the statement “it’s better or okay to avoid anxiety-provoking situations than to learn how to tackle and overcome my fears”.
  • Nearly three in ten (29%) 12 to 21-year-olds say that, over the past 12 months, they have avoided going to school or college, or university to reduce their anxiety. This figure rises to exactly half in the 48% of young people who have mental health difficulties.

NHS services under increasing pressure

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for CAMHS has increased by 76%. In fact, NHS data shows that a record 1.4 million children and young people sought help for mental health problems in 2022 (up from 812,070 in 2019).  

In stem4’s annual GP survey (2022), one London GP described CAMHS as “massively oversubscribed” and with “huge waits”. “I don’t doubt the doctors and teams are doing their best but essentially, they need huge numbers more”, they said. 

With both NHS mental health services and school and college counselling services overwhelmed, our survey results show many young people who need support for anxiety disorders and other conditions feel they are being overlooked. As a result, they are avoiding situations that make them feel anxious, such as school, work, and social events. But these are important activities for building identity and confidence and, by avoiding them, they are being deprived of the opportunity to learn how to deal with them.

Social media DIY

Our survey worryingly shows that young people who feel they have been left to deal with their mental health problems alone are increasingly turning to social media for help. Indeed, those with mental health difficulties are twice as likely (32%) to seek out social media influencers who openly discuss their mental health problems or offer advice than those with no mental health difficulties (14%). 

Whilst peer support and self-help approaches have their place, the unique individual factors of mental health conditions are more suited to targeted and evidence-based support. Reliance on social media DIY as a strategy for coping with anxiety and other mental health difficulties is, at best, a lottery.

One of the challenges is that algorithms push unsolicited content that could have a negative impact on a young person’s wellbeing. Indeed, our research shows that around a fifth (21%) of 12 to 21-year-olds with no mental health difficulties admitted that their mental health was made worse by going on social media apps and connecting with influencers.  

To help teenagers manage their digital spaces, stem4 has developed some tips on how to navigate social media when feeling low

Being brave 

Our research for Youth Mental Health Day 2023 shows that, unfortunately, children and young people’s mental health problems appear to be increasing in number and becoming more complex. With specialist services stretched, many young people are seeking their own ways to deal with how they feel, such as avoiding stressful situations and seeking ‘social media DIY’. 

stem4 is therefore campaigning for educators, parents, and carers to have a better understanding of anxiety and anxiety disorders, including the importance of seeking early evidence-based support and offering early intervention by CBT specialists in schools and colleges. 

By focusing on what it takes to #BeBrave, we hope to give young people the courage and confidence they need to achieve their goals and ambitions and be the best version of themselves they can be.

How can Good Thinking help?

As part of our mission to give young Londoners the best free wellbeing resources, Good Thinking offers three of stem4’s award-winning mental health apps:

  • Clear Fear helps children and young people to manage the symptoms of anxiety
  • Combined Minds helps families and friends to provide mental health support
  • Move Mood helps teenagers to manage low mood and depression

You can learn more about these apps in our webinar with Dr Nihara Krause MBE.

In addition to offering free wellbeing apps for under-18s, Good Thinking provides a range of advice and resources, including tips if you’re being bullied, feeling stressed at school or worried about money. Check out the Young People and Students sections on our website.

If you feel extremely distressed and worried that you might not be able to keep yourself safe, there is lots of urgent support available. Please don’t suffer alone.

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