Saturday 3 December 2016

TV's Made In Chelsea puts pressure on youngsters to be perfect, MP warns

Published 27/10/2016 | 14:31

Some of the cast of Made In Chelsea, pictured in 2013
Some of the cast of Made In Chelsea, pictured in 2013

Made In Chelsea pressures youngsters to be "absolutely perfect", a Tory MP has warned amid concerns over the "national scandal" of children's mental health services.

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Andrew Bingham (High Peak) hit out at reality television shows for turning minor imperfections over body image into major issues, adding criticism and ridicule on social media "amplified" its effect on vulnerable youngsters.

Labour's Helen Hayes also criticised the state of mental health services available to children as she criticised the lack of resources it has compared to physical health conditions.

Speaking during a Commons debate, Mr Bingham told MPs: "Modern media seems to present all young people as perfectly formed human beings.

"Reality programmes such as Made In Chelsea - it plays to the pressure on so many people to be absolutely perfect.

"The slightest imperfection, perceived or otherwise, can become a major issue.

"We hear a lot about body image, and young people's attitude to it. Again, the desire to be perfect.

"So when a perceived imperfection is not only remarked on, but ridiculed, via social media, it is amplified and retweeted, and the likes, non-likes and comments, they can become cruel.

"If you are a teenager, you are uncertain, you are vulnerable, and again it can severely damage the self-esteem and mental health of a young person."

Ms Hayes, the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, told the Commons children were waiting months for appointments and treatment, and could be sent miles away from home for treatment.

Ms Hayes, while opening the debate on young people's mental health, added: "We only need to think for a moment about what our response would be if some of the statistics on young people's mental health related to a physical condition, to realise just how far away we are from the stated objective of parity of esteem being realised.

"Just imagine if 75% of people with a bacterial infection struggled to get access to treatment.

"Or if almost a quarter of referrals for cataracts were turned away, or if people with a chest infection were routinely forced to wait until they had pneumonia before any help was provided.

"Or those with a broken leg were forced to wait for days in A&E, only to be sent to a hospital hundreds of miles away to be treated.

"It would be a national scandal. And the state of our mental health services, particularly those for young people, is a national scandal - it just isn't being recognised as such sufficiently."

Labour's Lyn Brown (West Ham) raised concerns about mental health funding not being properly ring-fenced which she said meant a target of increasing spend on the issue in line with other types of health care "is being missed".

She said: "We need early identification. We need early intervention. But we also need the funding to make sure that we have something to refer people to and that is the rub of this whole debate.

"There doesn't seem to be the funding at any point in that journey for young people who are needing help, whether its awareness, whether it's intervention or whether it's services."

Tory former shadow mental health minister Tim Loughton expressed frustration at the progress made on tackling the issue.

He said: "Here we are again. We are still here and record numbers of children and young people are still here with mental health problems."

He suggested the Government should consider introducing a mental health minister with a seat in Cabinet as he referenced the work undertaken by Luciana Berger when she held a similar shadow role for Labour.

"I very much would like to see my own party in government replicate that because it's such an important and cross-cutting issue," he said.

Mr Loughton said that mental healthcare for young people "remains a Cinderella service".

He said: "There have been many good words, many good intentions, great intentions, the best of intentions, by many ministers but in practice at the sharp end, on the ground where our young people, our young constituents experience and try to access the mental health support they desperately need it is not happening and it's certainly not happening in a uniform way across the whole country."

Huw Merriman, the Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle, said he believed there was "too much pressure being loaded on people too young".

He said: "Social media and the internet, as pioneering as it is, is a curse on wellbeing.

"The internet service providers need to be forced to do more.

"Every young person should have the right to have their web history expunged and deleted."

Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, suggested that Theresa May needed to show "stronger leadership" on mental health as he called for more funding to be made available.

"Parity of esteem isn't about sentiment, it's about resources," he said.

Health minister Nicola Blackwood said the Government has put in place a requirement for Clinical Commissioning Groups to increase spending on mental health services year on year.

The Government is also putting transparency and accountability measures in place to track care in local areas, she said.

She said: "I'm not going to beat around the bush - we recognise that there are a complex and severe set of challenges facing children and young people's mental health services today. This is an area that has been undervalued and underfunded for far too long."

Children and young people want to be able to find help easily in a welcoming environment near to home, where they will not be moved between services and forced to repeat their stories, according to research.

She added: "We do need to go further to drive these changes through, changes children and young people themselves want to see.

"Because children want to grow up to be confident and resilient, supported to fulfil their goals and ambitions, so we are placing an emphasis on building in that resilience and promoting good mental health and well-being and prevention.

"We are looking in particular to do more upstream to prevent mental health problems before they arise."

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