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Suicide of Camden schoolgirl prompts further training of psychiatrists in internet safety

13:00 14 April 2014

Jeremy Hunt. Picture: Suzanne Plunkett

Jeremy Hunt. Picture: Suzanne Plunkett

PA Wire/Press Association Images

The suicide of a teenage girl from West Hampstead has prompted the Health Secretary to ask for psychiatrists be given more training in the role online social media can play in the mental health of young people.

Jeremy Hunt said he “recognised the increasing importance of the role of media and in particular social 
media in the lives of young people” and has asked the Royal College of Psychologists to look into making training compulsory.

He has also commissioned a study to be carried out by Bristol University to look into “the use of the internet in relation to suicidal behaviour”.

His calls were in response to a letter sent by a coroner at St Pancras Coroner’s Court who had been vocal in her concerns that mental health clinicians lacked expertise in online social media.

Coroner Mary Hassell’s worries emerged after leading the inquest into the death of Tallulah Wilson, a 15-year-old ballet dancer, who took her own life in October 2012. The schoolgirl was said to have become obsessed with online blogs about suicide and often posted disturbing images of self-harm to her 18,000 followers.

When her mother discovered her 
internet activity, she had Tallulah’s account deleted, with her psychiatrist’s support, because she was concerned about the influence these ‘dangerous’ blogs could have on a young girl.

Dr Andy Wiener, Tallulah’s psychiatrist, revealed during the inquest that he underestimated the impact this would have on her, and speculated about whether she may have felt as if she had been “deleted” as well. He said he had since undergone training and now better understands the role of the internet in young people’s lives.

The Tavistock Centre, in Belsize Lane, where Tallulah’s psychiatrist practices, has also actively worked to understand better the digital lives of young people and to encourage more communication with adults.

It recently hosted an afternoon seminar on the internet and child and adolescent mental health.

The new efforts come as the Royal College of Psychiatrists also revealed it is “very concerned” about the impact of the internet on young people who self-harm and was looking into it as “a matter of urgency”.

A spokesman said: “Within the college’s recently revised curriculum for child and adolescent psychiatrists, a number of training objectives relating to young people’s use of the internet and its relation to mental health have been included.

“These are optional, but the college has opened discussions with the General Medical Council to make them a mandatory component of training. This will be pursued as a matter of urgency.”

The college is also looking into 
developing “positive alternatives” to YouTube and other social media.

Going further, the Department of Health suggested it was up to 
social media users and sites “to point anyone talking about harming themselves to places they can get help”.

A spokesman said: “The government takes the issue of child safety online very seriously and has set out a series of measures to help keep children safe online.

“The new national curriculum will see children aged five to 16 taught about internet safety in a sensible, age-appropriate way. This is a really important step.”

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