There are concerns that cyberbullying and “sexting” by young people can lead to depression in later life
Experts claim it is now so rife that it risks causing a surge in the number of youngsters suffering serious depression and anxiety as they grow up.
A 2014 study by researchers at King’s College, London, where a total of 7,771 children, whose parents provided information on their child’s exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11, were followed until the age of 50.
The study found that the negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying were still evident up to 40 years later.
Figures released by the Priory Group, the country’s largest organisation for mental health hospitals and clinics, show admissions for anxiety in teenagers has risen by 50 per cent in only four years.
In 2014 a total of 262 girls and boys aged 12 to 17 were admitted to one of its centres, up from 178 in 2010.
Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Roehampton, warns that there is a growing flood of teens and adults who have suffered low self-esteem, body image issues and self-harming tendencies because their childhood had been scarred by online and digital abuse.
She said: “Episodes in childhood are often repressed, children often fear reporting abuse, and only later in life do these issues surface in the form of depression, stress and anxiety and other serious psychological conditions”.
“This relatively new phenomenon of sexting – where explicit texts and pictures are sent between smartphone devices – seems to have become endemic, and we are not sure of the long-term consequences.
“However, coupled with online bullying, we can expect an increasing number of people suffering issues of trust, shame, and self-loathing, sometimes manifesting itself in self-harming.”
Charity ‘Ditch the Label’ recently surveyed 2,732 people aged between 13 and 25.
It found 62 per cent of young people had been ‘abused’ through a smartphone app, with 37 per centsaying they had sent a naked photo of themselves.
Almost half of those questioned said they believed sexting was just a bit of harmless fun with 16 per cent saying it was the “the normal thing to do”.
According to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), emergency admissions for psychiatric conditions rose to 17,278 in 2014, double the number four years previously.
There were 15,668 admissions of young women aged 15 to 19 for cutting, burning or harming themselves compared with 9,255 admissions in 2004.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed one in five 16- to 24-year-olds had symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress.
It remains important for parents to teach their children to be cautious about how they use social media, to avoid exploitation or cyberbullying.