Earlier this month, an inquest ruled social media had contributed to British teenager Molly Russell’s tragic death. In what has been hailed a ‘landmark ruling’, senior UK coroner Andrew Walker stopped short of describing this beautiful child’s death as suicide, instead finding the 14-year-old had ‘died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression in 2017’. This, he concluded, was due to the ‘negative effects of online content’ Molly had viewed on sites such as ‘Instagram and Pinterest’, which, according to Mr Walker ‘shouldn’t have been available for a child to see’.
It has been widely reported that, in the months prior to her death, schoolgirl Molly had ‘liked’ videos of people jumping in front of trains and people falling off buildings; footage which her family believed ‘encouraged’ suicide, but which a Meta Executive (Instagram and Facebook’s parent company) reportedly said she believed was ‘safe’.
I don’t know about you readers, but I personally believe society has a duty to normalise mental health concerns as opposed to disparaging them. However, given the disturbing rise in the number of children and teens dying by suicide, (according to mentalhealthireland.ie ‘Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe’), these difficulties appear to have phenomenally escalated from historically being stigmatised to now becoming outrageously glamorised.
In the world of social media, suicide has often been portrayed in a manner than raises a red flag with me, causing me to worry about how some vulnerable people might perceive suicidality. Some may feel it will garner them lots of attention, publicity and notoriety. I don’t mind telling you readers, I’m not someone who scares easily, but such a theory terrifies me.
You see, as a parent and grandparent, even as I know there’s a huge amount of positive and educational information available to our kids online, I must acknowledge there’s also a heck of a lot of damaging stuff, all of it up for grabs at just the mere click of a mouse.
However, while the vast majority of those viewing what would realistically be construed as being destructive and damaging content online would never, in a million years, wish to act on, or even imitate it, for others, i.e. the vulnerable, (albeit a minority), the impact of such material could prove extremely harmful. Indeed, as our kids are becoming increasingly more active online at a younger, more influential age, the probability of them viewing or hearing something inappropriate is growing on a daily basis.
I’m sure any social media site which appears to promote and glamorise self-harm and/or suicide doesn’t do so intentionally. On the other hand, as damaging content is freely available for anyone who wishes to view information around destructive acts – whatever their age or level of vulnerability – I’m glad the UK coroner took these tech giants to task.
However, even as this landmark ruling has raised the regulatory pressure on social media companies, I have no doubt our kids or vulnerable adults will still find themselves exposed to explicit material across a variety of networking and gaming sites, many of which could potentially lead to serious risk and exploitation. It’s for that reason I would urge all parents to not just educate their kids, but to become active to the point of being OCD-esque in scanning and supervising what their kids/teens are viewing online. Why? Because, what may appear to be a pop-up for a free game, which, due to the shrewd algorithms employed by social media organisations could depict their favourite cartoon character, it’s important to know those characters may well be promoting acts which are drastically and terrifyingly different in real life situations. To put it bluntly, if you don’t set strict boundaries regarding your child’s/teen’s/vulnerable adult’s viewing time and content, before you know it, they could potentially find themselves helplessly sucked into a vortex of sexual content, self-harm, etc.
For anyone who is experiencing mental health issues, please know that help is available by chatting with your family doctor, or by logging on to www.hse.ie for a list of local services.
Creeslough: an entire nation mourns
It was while out walking, listening to Classic Hits Radio on my phone, that I first heard the breaking news story regarding the horrific explosion in Donegal which has quite literally plunged our entire nation into a state of shock and grief.
The phrase ‘there are simply no words’ may seem like a cliché; however, never has it been more apt than this week.
On a busy Friday evening, as the community of Creeslough, Donegal went about its business, their peace, tranquillity, and their entire lives were shattered by a single blast that ripped through the popular, busy local Applegreen Service Station, shop and overhead apartments, resulting in ten people losing their lives and leaving many more injured.
I cannot imagine the depths of grief and horror being experienced by the poor families directly impacted by this unconscionable occurrence on an individual level; however I do know the collective psychological impact has spread, not just throughout the soul of this community and County Donegal, but throughout our entire nation.
During this week, wherever I travelled across this particular county, I noticed an almost palpable and collective trauma and sense of grief and heartbreak being felt by the good people of Roscommon. This was something which for me, highlighted a true sense, a true compassion, and a true grit regarding the type of societal solidarity which can only be felt and fully understood by rural communities.
On behalf of this county, and my own native county of Dublin, I’d like to offer my sincere condolences to the bereaved, to the people of Donegal; to the amazing, courageous emergency and rescue workers and volunteers; and especially to those whose lives have been changed forever by this tragedy.
I’d like to acknowledge the response of the emergency services across the border who immediately leapt to help their first responder colleagues; it was not just a neighbourly gesture, it was also a wonderfully humane gesture which I’m sure no doubt contributed to the saving of many lives. May the souls of the deceased rest in peace.