when social networks weigh on the mental health of young people

On social media, the risks that weigh on adolescents and young adults are legions. As World Bullying Day begins, how can you protect yourself and your loved ones from these dangers?

In two hours, Quentin went through hell. That Saturday he was trapped by two thieves, to the point of ending his life. It all starts on Skype, where he plans to chat with a young woman his age. In front of his webcam, the teen agrees to undress. Immediately the trap closes: the scammer threatens to transmit the images of him to his relatives if Quentin does not send him large sums of money.

The exchanges, the transcript of which was consulted by a complementary investigation team in 2021, lasted two and a half hours. The 18-year-old ends up committing suicide by sticking a knife in his chest. His parents find him lying in his room at dinner time.

According to Public Health France, in 2022, “visits to the emergency room for the suicidal gesture, suicidal thoughts and mood disorders remain at high levels, comparable (for 11-14 years) or even higher (for 15-17 years and 18-24 years) to those observed at the beginning of 2021“.

This crisis is due to multiple and complex factors, linked in particular to an excessively anxious climate, including global warming, a pandemic and the return of war in Europe. It is further exacerbated, caregivers explain, by the lack of resources of child psychiatry services. And social networks, ubiquitous in most teens’ lives, are a place where teens are particularly at risk of being exposed to dangerous content.

In Tours, the mental health of young people and adolescents is precisely the mission of the Oreste center, set up by the Chinon hospital center. His manager, Dr. Xavier Angibault, welcomes us into an office adorned with tributes to pop culture and cinema. On the faux wood walls, the motorcycleAkira next to an X-Men poster, the Castles in the air, boards taken from comics and / or references to Game of Thrones.

Within these four walls, dozens of teenagers march every year. “We take care of all kinds of problems“, explains Dr. Angiault. From anxiety disorders to psychotic episodes, passing through disorders of attention or eating behavior, young people aged 14 to 18 from all over the Indre-et-Loire department are followed by dozen of caregivers from the center of Oreste, who organize individual sessions together, but also collective workshops around art, cinema and even video games.

Here, “we do not demonize social networks“explains Dr. Angiault.”It is a tool like any other, through which young people create links, access information, create content.«For young people under construction it is also a space of freedom and experimentation, far from the gaze and judgment of adults, and for this very reason it involves risks.

It is a way to expose yourself to danger, but in a less direct and less violent way than, for example, driving a scooter without a helmet.“, details Xavier Angiault. Also,”there is this idea that ‘it’s not real life’ “. However, by exposing yourself to the networks, you also risk receiving violent content and comments. Up to cyber harassment, which has not been punishable by law as a specific crime only since 2014.

Xavier Angibault cites, without naming it, a case very close to that of Quentin. “He was seduced by a young woman online, they both turned on the webcam and started having virtual sex“, says the child psychiatrist. Again, it turns out that the virtual girlfriend does not exist: a scammer used a supposedly pre-recorded video to trap the young man and try to extort huge sums of money from him.

He immediately informed his parents, who filed a complaint“, completes the doctor. The story went no further.”He felt listened to and felt confident enough about his parents to talk to them about it.“, analyzes Xavier Angiault.”But when you are all alone faced with this kind of problem, you can very well imagine that things go wrong very quickly!

To preserve the mental health of young people, on and off social media, dialogue is the first line of defense. On the part of the parents, it remains “genuinely curious“and taking an interest in your child’s social life, without being an intruder, can offer the keys to breaking the ice.

You have to be able to tell them: “even if I don’t understand anything, I know it’s important to you”

Xavier Angibault, child psychiatrist of the Oreste Center

Restricting access to social networks can be tempting, but, as the child psychiatrist reminds us, teens very often have a better grasp of technology than their parents. However “it is not bad in itself not to be present on social networks. The important thing is to have the opportunity to create links. Families that restrict access to networks often give their children other places to socialize.“.

But what if the parents are not present or are reluctant to talk about the subject? In this case, “you have to find someone you trust, it can be a friend, an older brother, a teacher, a school nurse, a shrink“, enumerates Dr. Angiault.”The most important thing is not to be alone.“Public health France also provides the same recommendations.

If you have an emergency or are having trouble finding an attentive ear, you can also go to a teen center. There is generally at least one per department and some, like in Orléans, have mobile teams for people who cannot travel. Accessible without an appointment and anonymously, these facilities welcome and advise young people aged 11 to 21.

As a last resort, if you are having a suicide crisis, call 3114 or one of the numbers recommended by the Ministry of Health and Solidarity.

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