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Hope Witsell was bullied after she "sexted" picture of her breasts to boyfriend Students harrassed her on MySpace and started "Hope Hater Page" online In September 2009, Hope killed herself in her room

Cyber bullying and pressures around social media are pushing some young people to the brink of suicide.
Experts say the 24-7 nature of sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram mean youngsters are ‘under siege’ from pornography, the risks of grooming and sexual exploitation, and can suffer anxiety and low self-esteem as relationship issues play out online.
Evidence shows girls aged between 12 and 15 are most in danger and the latest Childline figures show one in three calls to the charity involves an issue surrounding mental health.
Emily Cherry, head of children and young people at the NSPCC, which runs the free hotline, said: “The online world can be a great place for children and young people, but equally it can be a place that provokes anxiety, self-esteem issues, and not feeling confident about yourself because you are constantly comparing yourself to others online.
“We had 1,420 calls last year around online bullying alone so we know this is a really significant issue in young people’s lives.
“If you look at some of the most serious calls we get through to Childline, we average about 50 calls from young people a day around suicide and self-harm.
“Not all of those will have an element of feeling under pressure online but quite a lot of those calls do talk to us about the negative effects of being constantly online and constantly under siege from worrying images, bullying, friendship and relationship issues playing out online.
“It is a really significant issue which at the most extreme end can cause young people to think about self-harming and suicide.
“We are most likely to hear from girls aged between 12 and 15.
“That’s not to say boys aren’t experiencing negative issues online, but girls are much more likely to come and talk to someone about it.”
Mrs Cherry says one of the most damaging scenarios involving youngsters with access to the internet is the sharing of sexual images.
“What we hear constantly from children is that sexting has become a normalised part of their relationships and they don’t see that there’s anything wrong with it,” she said.
The impact for children and young people once they’ve shared an image of themselves and then that’s been shared around online can be so damaging.
“So we do need to do a lot of education with young people about the risks and the dangerous of sharing images of themselves online.
It is really important that schools and parents regularly have those conversations with young people.
Childline can help remove sexual images from the internet via its partnership with the Internet Watch Foundation.
It also has several online protection tools to help keep children safe, including the Zipit App, which gives advice and support surrounding sexting.
There are also resources for parents such as the Share Aware and Net Aware websites to keep them up to date with the digital world.
Mrs Cherry said, given the rapidly advancing nature of technology and the risks of exploitation, it is vital people in charge of children don’t close their eyes to the dangers.
“The first thing we need to recognise is just how important social media and online is to young people - they don’t see a difference between the online and offline world,” she said.
“So the thing we now need to do as professionals and parents is to make sure that we are keeping ahead of how young people are using technology.
“We need schools to be having constant and regular lessons around digital resilience so young people understand how to use the internet safety.
“And we really need the technology providers to step up their game and put child safety at the heart of all of the sites, apps and games that children are using.
They need to make it easier to report, block and set things like their privacy settings at the highest level, have proper age verification and really critically we want social media sites to have more human moderators that can pick up things like grooming behaviour online.”
Julie Blackmore, chief executive officer, of Maidstone and Mid Kent Mind, agrees social media is the trigger for many mental health problems among young people.
“It seems to put an awful lot of pressure on,” she said.
“It’s just that they don’t get away from anything, there’s that continued pressure.
“You see other people on Facebook saying what a fantastic life they are living, what holidays they are going on, when they are going out, and if you’re at home and you’re very socially isolated of course it’s going to have an effect on your mental health.
“I think that combined with the bullying that also takes place over social media absolutely it is having a pretty major impact on a lot of young people’s mental health.
“We are working with young people to recognise some of the implications of getting involved with social media and how to cope with that.
“I think unfortunately it is just a sign of the times, that’s the kind of life we are living at the moment.”
Mrs Blackmore says adults are not immune to the negative effects of social media either.
“Part of our adult ‘coping with life’ programme is based around that.
“We look at all the different reasons why people are suffering from mental health issues and social media is always included within that.
“It is predominantly more young people but I think there is also an element of it to older people as well.”
Marc Bush, chief policy adviser at national charity YoungMinds, which works to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children, said: “For young people social media provides a world of connections, access to information and knowledge, but with it comes constant pressure to respond, update and be available, which can result in negative consequences.
“However, as the online world is increasingly inhabited by us all 24/7, we need to ensure young people are looking after themselves by building resilience to online pressures from an early age.
“It is important for parents to negotiate screen time with young people so that they can experience the benefits of being connected without the negative impacts on their sleep and wellbeing.”

Youngsters 'pushed to brink of suicide' by social media Geoffrey Bew 24 May 2017

‘Sexting’ and Suicide Elizabeth J. Meyer Dec 16 2009

Teenager commits suicide after 'sexting' a nude photo to her boyfriend made her life a misery Katy Hastings MailOnline 11 March 2009

How a cell phone picture led to girl's suicide Randi Kaye October 7, 2010

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