BLOG: Mental health is not a game for our young people

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London, 22 September 2022: Today is Youth Mental Health Day and it is vitally important we continue to find ways to encourage young people, and those around them, to talk about how to improve mental health. Mental health is something we all need to get comfortable thinking about and discussing regularly but having space to explore wellbeing on mental health awareness days is a great place to start.

This year’s Youth Mental Health Day is focusing on the importance of our connections and relationships. Young people are invited to reflect on how their relationships have changed over the past couple of years and share how they can connect more meaningfully in future.

YGAM is an award-winning charity focused on safeguarding the wellbeing of young people through evidence-led education. As with any organisation working to prevent harm, supporting and promoting mental health is fundamental in all that we do.

We focus on the prevention of harms associated with gaming and gambling, with younger generations growing up entwined in the digital world, always just a few clicks away from an online galaxy of gaming and gambling. CHILDWISE revealed that 90% of 11-year-olds in the UK have their own mobile phone. A report from the Children’s Commissioner showed that 93% of children in the UK play video games. UK gamers spent more money on gaming last year than they did during the height of lockdown, according to trade body UKIE.

When used positively, gaming can be a helpful way to support a young person’s mental health. During successive lockdowns, gaming helped many young people stay connected, entertained, and stimulated. Using games in teaching can also increase student participation, foster social and emotional learning, and motivate students to be bolder.

However, whilst acknowledging the positives, it is important to be aware of the negative impacts excessive gaming can have on mental health. The Youth Voice Census 2022 told us that young people have growing feelings of anxiety and isolation, despite being better connected in the digital world.

In May 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) included gaming disorder as a behavioural addiction on its 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Common emotional harms of gaming include fatigue, demotivation, aggression, withdrawal, social anxiety, and depression. Video games are often not the sole cause, but if they take over your life and you start to neglect other important things, then that can create anxious thoughts. There is evidence to suggest a connection between gaming and depression.

Technology is advancing rapidly and taking video gaming along with it. This new world can often seem daunting to generations born before the explosion of the internet. As children grow up with gaming cemented in their daily life, it is more important than ever that the adults who have care or influence over them, are well informed. Education has an important role to play. The portfolio of programmes on gaming delivered by the YGAM team equips professionals such as teachers, youth workers, health practitioners, safeguarding leads, university staff and more, with the knowledge and skills to help safeguard the young people they work with. Through our workshops and Parent Hub website (www.parents.ygam.org), we provide parents and carers with an abundance of advice, guidance and information to empower them to have meaningful family conversations about the impact of gaming harms.

In 2022 you will struggle to find a young person who doesn’t game. You will also struggle to find a young person who is unaware of the importance of good mental health.  Working with children and young people can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it can also be challenging. We must invest time in understanding the existing and emerging contributors to better mental health. Gaming and mental health exist together at the centre of young people’s lives, so it is more important than ever that we stay informed to support and safeguard future generations.

If you are interested in finding out more about YGAM’s award-winning workshops and resources, you can visit their website at www.ygam.org or email training@ygam.org

A blog written by Daniel Bliss, Director of External Affairs at YGAM, on Youth Mental Health Day 2022.

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