Social media is contributing to a growing mental health crisis among children in Wrexham and Flintshire, according to the head of the North Wales health board.
It comes after politicians raised concerns about the length of time taken for help to be provided for children and young people with mental health issues in North East Wales.
A report shows that one youngster in the region faced a wait of more than half a year for treatment in 2018, while the longest wait for an assessment was over four months.
It comes despite the Welsh Government setting a target for 80 per cent of mental health patients to be assessed within 28 days and for interventions to start within a further 28 days.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board chief executive Gary Doherty admitted that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) were struggling to meet those targets, with only 11 per cent of children receiving an assessment within that timeframe in June.
However, he told members of Wrexham Council’s safeguarding scrutiny committee that social media companies should be made to pay for adding to the problem.
Speaking at a meeting yesterday, he said: “I actually agree with what the head of the NHS in England said that maybe the likes of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat should be making some kind of contribution to the impact.
“With social media, it’s not hard to see that it’s playing a part.
“Anything that reduces the level of self esteem and confidence can contribute.
“In terms of the impact of blue screens on sleep, all those and more beside that are some of the things that are driving the increase.”
It was also revealed that an increase in the number of youngsters with eating disorders had added to the demand on the service.
The waiting list for assessments reached a peak in the summer with 212 children waiting to be seen in June.
Meanwhile, the list for treatment hit its highest during April with a total of 207 patients.
A number of councillors in Wrexham said they also believed that social media was contributing to the issue.
Cartrefle councillor Ronnie Prince said: “I totally agree with what the chief said.
“I visit my grandkids and I walk in the room and they’re on an iPad, so getting a conversation with them sometimes is very hard.
“Trying to get that message across and say ‘Turn it off because it’s not good for your health’ is difficult because they think the world revolves around this.”
Cllr Joan Lowe, lead member for health and adult social care said the matter had also been mentioned to her by senior school staff in the area.
She said: “Our headmaster actually said that with the mental health and wellbeing of pupils now and the deterioration in the last five years, he dreaded to think what the next five to ten years will bring and that was to do with social media and everything else.”
However, Cllr Brian Cameron voiced concerns after health board representatives outlined that there are currently 10 vacancies within CAMHS in the north east area.
It means that only 25 out of the 35 jobs within the service have been filled.
He said: “Do we think it’s acceptable for someone to wait to be seen for 28 weeks?
“We may have a lot of experience ourselves and we know as adults what it’s like with mental health, but children haven’t got the experience to guide themselves through.
“I appreciate the difficulties that you’re under, but it’s frightening because it’s young people.”
In response, Mr Doherty said the board was trying to fill as many posts as possible.
It is hoping to achieve the mental health assessment time target by the end of October, while the goal for reaching the treatment target is February 2019.
He said: “I agree it is too long and that’s why we’re working in this area.
“What is definitely this case both within Wales and UK, is that the whole CAMHS service has struggled to keep up with demand.
“The majority of units would have the level of vacancies we’ve got, but maybe a bit better.”
At the end of the meeting councillors voted in favour of receiving a further update on waiting times from the board next year.
By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).
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