Do movies and video games affect your child’s mental health? It’s been a common question raised since children have had access to movies and video games from such a young age. The simple answer is, yes they do. With Netflix having 139 million subscribers and reaching the eyes of much more than that, their accessibility to endless TV shows is dangerous. The ability to binge-watch TV shows seems to be the crux of the issue.
Patient.info surveyed 2000 people, more than half of which admitted they experienced mental health issues after completing a series they binge-watched. The survey also showed those aged 18-24 were five times more likely to feel lonely, three times more likely to feel depressed and twice as likely to feel anxious, sleepless and empty. However, those aged over 55 were less likely to experience these issues after binge-watching.
Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why TV series has been heavily criticised for it’s handling of suicide, sexual assault and mental health struggles. 13 Reasons Why highlights the alienation the main character feels from her peer group and the lack of support she receives. After the airing of the first season of 13 Reasons Why in 2017, the National Institute of Mental Health reported a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the show’s release.
Chair of the Australian Rotary Health (ARH) Research Committee Professor Jane Pirkis, says ‘parents need to be aware of the effect of such shows’. Her current work as the Director of the Centre for Mental Health in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at Melbourne University involves research into the ways suicides portrayed in traditional and social media can lead to imitative acts.
When you add social media to the equation, things start to exacerbate. The show and the dramas that go with it are promoted all over social media, increasing accessibility even further. Suicide and depression are sensitive topics. Throw in a parent/child relationship and it can be a difficult topic to broach with your hormonally-ridden teen. But it’s a conversation and open dialogue we need to continue working on. The sobering fact is one in seven young people experience a mental health condition in any given year.
Freelance health journalist, Charmaine Yabsley, has 13 tips and ideas to keep in mind when you are talking to your teenager about suicide.
1. Just start talking
2. Monitor their social media activity
3. Do your own research online to stay current with what is happening
4. Learn mental health first aid
5. Discuss bullying
6. Be aware of the contagious nature of suicide
7. Encourage your child to talk to others
8. Discuss options, show that they have support
9. Discuss fiction vs. reality
10. Don’t assume they aren’t watching it even if they aren’t at home
11. Watch for signs if you think your child is having suicidal thoughts
12. Be aware of their conversations, whether that be in the schoolyard or online
13. Don’t binge-watch