Blog of ACAMH event: “Responding to a Digital Generation”

ACAMH have been promoting the importance of responding to the challenges for young people’s mental health in an increasingly digitalised and what some refer to as a “social media-obsessed” world. This event, held on Friday 14th June 2019, in Glasgow, featured a panel of professionals each giving a different insight into the challenges faced by multidisciplinary staff teams and their services in understanding and where necessary helping young people and their families manage the impact of mobile and online technologies on young people’s quality of life.

The first speaker Sarah Doherty, a 22 year old enurture Youth lead, and software-developer, gave a personal and positive perspective on the use of social media to connect, support and encourage young people. It was interesting to hear about ways digital media platforms can be used to connect young people socially and culturally, across different areas of the UK.

Then Jess McBeath, online safety consultant, gave an engaging presentation entitled: “Myth busting: addressing assumptions about the impact of digital technologies on children and young people.” She explained that statistically young people experience more challenges with navigating the online world compared with adults. For example, she noted that 79% of 12 to 15-year olds stated they had faced potentially harmful online experiences within the last 12 months – according to latest OfCom statistics. She described common “myths” which she stated include a societal opinion that parents and children need warning about dangerous apps. This led to an interesting discussion about the effect of the recent disturbing image online, “Momo.” In fact the meeting heard that there was a spike in interest following circulation by responsible bodies and social media, which actually thereby facilitated far more young people accessing this distressing content. Of course, as Jess told us, it is important to support good digital health, but to achieve this Jess’s view was that reporting of concerns needs to be done in a responsible way, with a fine balance observed between promoting free speech and limiting offensive content.

Jess continued looking at potential myths regarding the impact of screen time with reference to RCPsych guidelines. It was also interesting to consider the recently defined “Gaming Disorder” soon to be published by the World Health Organisation in the ICD11. It is clear that further longitudinal research looking at the impact of “sedentary screen time” is required before drawing definitive conclusions.

The concept of “clickbait” struck a chord with delegates, in that social media and apps are designed to induce and encourage an experience of seamless flow from one online content item to another. The users’ subconscious is being manipulated and hence encouraging longer periods of screen time. For the internet content providers the continued attention of users is their goal and is linked to financial models, advertising or indeed politics, whatever the motivation of that particular websites creators. This limits face to face interactions and hence social communication skills may become maladapted in a proportion of young people. For a deeper understanding of these issues you may wish to visit the 5 Rights Foundation TED talk by Baroness Kidron.

In the afternoon, there were a number of workshops held with CEOP (Child Exploitation Online Protection) ambassador, Andrea McMillan, initially leading a session on sharing information online using Thinkuknow CEOP National Crime Agency resources.

Babs Paterson gave information on the Children’s Hearing System and the impact of social media on grounds for referral to the Children’s panel. More information about this can be found at

Reni Ali, project leader from GAMH (Glasgow Association for Mental Health, gave a workshop incorporating the thoughts and opinions of young people themselves.

Gail Penman, Primary mental health worker, gave insight into parenting skill workshops that she runs in NHS Tayside. She spoke of the use of social media as a “comparison tool” with potential to have negative impact on self-worth, sleep, frustration tolerance and mood. In addition she discussed aspects of social media and gaming that can also be very positive, and that for many young people the online world is their preferred space and holds their social network. She concluded by giving us information on useful websites including “Net Aware”: a website run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) for adults to look up a full list of apps and be aware of potential risks and benefits of each one (

Take home messages from the day were that parents, carers, schools and tier 3 CAMHS services all share responsibility to support children and adolescents to safely navigate the online world. To do this there is a necessity for professionals working with children and adolescents to keep up to date with knowledge of potential risks; but also to embrace digital media as a now normal part of young lives which comes with potential benefits. We must continue to strive to understand in what ways it may be a new healthy part of day-to-day living for young people and in what other ways it may pose risks and challenges to their health and mental wellbeing.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared no conflicts of interest in relation to this article.


Dr Mallika Punukollu; Email:

About the Authors

Mallika Punukollu
Mallika Punukollu

Dr Mallika Punukollu trained initially as a GP and is now working as a Consultant in CAMHS Psychiatry in Glasgow. She is a senior honorary clinical lecturer at Glasgow University with active involvement in digital health research.  She is the co-founder of the safespot app and website ( and is passionate about utilising technology as a digital adjunct in delivery of mental health care.

Emma Leighton
Emma Leighton

Dr Emma Leighton is a CT3 psychiatry trainee in NHS GGC. She is also affiliated to the University of Glasgow as an Honorary Clinical Lecturer in medicine. She has recently completed a post with the East Renfrewshire CAMHs team and now works with the Esteem early intervention in psychosis service.

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