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Study to look at effects of social media and technology on mental health in young people

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Scientists are set to embark on one of the vital comprehensive studies up to now into how digital technologies impact the mental health of young people.

As digitisation of knowledge continues, and with the pandemic helping to speed up the change, the always-on world of social media and rapid news cycles has adversely affected some.

Researchers are to look at how a rapidly changing society has created additional digital stressors, with those aged between 10 and 24 set to be the main target of the study.

Dr Theodore Lim, from Heriot-Watt University, said: “The collaboration between psychology and engineering will use gamification comparable to a mobile app game to capture neurological sequences in young people.

“How they play the sport will inform us about their mental wellbeing and might track their response over time to deliver trends and patterns.

“The information can be fed right into a hub with an AI to analyse it. Clinical and user input can be essential throughout the study to enhance the sport and discover the right classifiers.”

Scientists from Heriot-Watt, alongside partners on the University of Edinburgh, gaming company Neuromedia, and a European consortium led by German research institute FTK, are working on the £5.2 million project.

They aim to develop ways to measure the impact of each direct and indirect stressors – which include round the clock news cycles, world events, social media and cyberbullying.

The project, funded by Horizon Europe, will see similar pilot studies happen across Europe using the identical approach, and it’s hoped it should help practitioners and individuals to higher monitor and manage emotional wellbeing in young people.

Their findings will initially inform approaches in Scotland before widening out the study’s impact to the remainder of the UK.

Dr Mel McKendrick, of Heriot-Watt, said it’s “difficult for clinicians to observe fluctuations in mental health and subsequently accurately diagnose conditions in some cases”, and that services are “at breaking point”.

She added: “We would like to create modern methods using gamification to higher inform ways to support young people living in Scotland initially, before helping to shape wider work across the UK.”

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