Some teenagers have alleged that excessive and uncontrolled use of social media by teenagers can lead to mental health issues. They mentioned this in Abuja at a recent conference on Mental Health Awareness for Teenagers, organised by Inspire Minds Education Foundation. According to the teenagers, addiction to social media can lead to no or less time for them to study or do other things that are beneficial to them or lead them to pornographic sites.
Drawn from different secondary schools in Abuja, the participants also said that depression could come as a result of seeing things on social media that they could not attain. They said that depression could also come from seeing the fake lives some people live that they would want to have at all costs. They mostly agreed that reduced time on social media to focus on studying, engaging with their peers and others constructively and parental guidance could help teenagers to avoid the pitfalls that lead mental health issues.
Miss Victory Ekong, teenage ambassador for the foundation said anxiety, depression, constant pressure on a teenager were things that could lead to mental health issues for teenagers. She also said that apart from social media, issues from homes, school and the society at large could lead to mental health issues. She, however, said that through interventions and workshops by the foundation, she had been made to understand that having a stable mental health is paramount to a teenager’s wellbeing. She said: “I have also been made to understand that teenagers need attention and mental health is not something you joke with; it is actually a more serious matter than people think it is. I am more stable in my mental health now because I am aware that it is a natural condition and I try to avoid issues that may lead to mental health breakdown.”
Mrs. Constance Egwuatu, a professional Child and Adolescent Counsellor and one of the facilitators at the conference, said many young people now battle with mental health issues. She said they could not talk about the mental health issues for fear of stigma or being perceived as having spiritual issues. She said that many did not even know what exactly was wrong with them because they did not seek help for depression. She said: “Some isolate themselves and begin to have suicidal thoughts or engage in vices. Some are raped or abused and they go through a lot of things. So, these mental health issues should be a concern, especially for all our young people, children and teenagers. We should mind what we say or what we do around them and what we do to them and we should also encourage the children to begin to talk to us or talk to counsellors who can help them. However, it should start from home so the awareness really should start from home, so parents can know what to look out for in the children to detect if something is wrong with them.”
About social media, she said contents created should be responsible so that teenagers could learn from them rather than cause them harm. Egwuatu said that social media should not just be about getting followers but should also serve as veritable tool to guide them appropriately. She advised parents to give the needed attention to the young ones to encourage them, adding that attention broken at home could make them run to others to get it which might be disastrous. “That is why I tell teachers and parents that they should not aggravate the problems of the children. They need to be understood. Don’t push them to the social media. When you don’t give them what they need, social media is there with different kinds of contents.”
Mrs. Rosemary Uwaleme, the founder of the foundation, said that the conference was aimed at creating awareness, reducing stigma and mitigating social vices. According to her, mental health issues in Nigeria were not taken seriously which has led to many cases of suicide even among teenagers. “Today we hear of different cases of suicide. They started from somewhere. So we need to create awareness for people to know what these issues are, know when they need to speak to someone about problems that they have, so that they can avoid getting into such problems. Now bringing teenagers into this, many teenagers don’t like to talk about their problems, so you have to make talking about mental health with them be like a normal language, just like you speak English. In Nigeria when you mention mental health, people think you are talking about madness. So the aim of this organisation is to create mental health awareness so that we can cope with cases like depression, abuse and all sorts of mental health issues. We want to create that awareness and help young people to be able to communicate freely about their problems.”
Uwaleme said this can be achieved through sensitization and counselling programmes for young people. She said the Foundation also provided financial support for the teenagers when necessary, added that the foundation also partnered with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to provide facilities for them.
Hon. Nsikak Ekong, member representing Ikot Ekpene Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, said that the conference was impactful because it addressed issues that had to do with social media and teenagers. “So this kind of workshop is very good because it educates the young ones. You catch them young. You try to change your attitude towards life. You try to change their mentality. You try to make them believe and know that whatever you want to be depends on you, no procrastination.“ In terms of laws, we are getting there somehow. Most states have domesticated the Child Rights Act, which is a law that protects the child from bad experiences, trauma and child abuse, so I think we will get there.”
Another parent, Mr Abubakar Ndaputu, said that giving children the opportunity to be themselves was very important because it was the best way to know how they feel about certain issues. He, however, said that the government has a role to play by creating an enabling environment for them to be able to express themselves. He added that the government could facilitate trainings and workshops for teachers on mental health issues so they could in turn give the necessary help to the children when needed.