Social media could be increasing cases of paranoia among regular users, a leading academic has warned.
One in five individuals suffer from paranoia – you are under threat even though there is no (or very little) evidence that you are.
Now a psychologist has said that number could dramatically rise as young people increasingly use social media.
Her comments come after a children’s charity said social media is fuelling a nation of ‘deeply unhappy’ children.
‘The digital world is changing society in a way that can make us feel like we are under surveillance,’ Philippa Garety, professor of clinical psychology at King’s College London.
‘Our actions are tracked and everything we do may be recorded in some way through the internet.
‘That may be triggering a greater sense of anxiety about whether people are in some sense harming you or following you.’
According to the mental health charity Mind, paranoid thoughts can range in severity, from experiencing delusions to having ‘exaggerated suspicions’.
Biggest threat is to young people
Young people are most at risk because they are heavy users of social media, Professor Garety said.
Indeed, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) last December blamed social media on a rise in self harm among youngsters.
It said 18,778 children aged 11 to 18 in England and Wales were admitted to hospital for self-harm in 2015/16 – a rise of 14 per cent rise from the year before.
The charity revealed it gave 18,471 counselling sessions about self-harm last year – equivalent to 50 a day.
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said then: ‘It is clear from the thousands of calls Childline receives that we have a nation of deeply unhappy children.
‘We know this unhappiness is partly due to the constant pressure they feel, particularly from social media, to have the perfect life or attain a certain image which is often unrealistic.
‘They tell us that the need to keep up with friends and the 24/7 nature of technology means they feel they can never escape or switch off, adding to the misery that many feel on a daily basis.’
Personalised app could help
Professor Garety is leading a major £1.3 million research project that could potentially help millions of people at risk of suffering from paranoia.
The academic and her team have developed an interactive app, created by the Royal College of Art, which will be tested on 360 patients to confirm its effectiveness.
Professor Garety said paranoia is a ‘significant issue in Britain causing difficulties in everyday life’ for the one in five people.
She said more severe cases cost the country billions of pounds every year.
The apps are personalised for the user and developed during sessions with a therapist so that it knows what kind of things trigger the person’s paranoia and how best to help them cope.
So when a person starts to feel uncomfortable, they can open up the app to be presented with a series of bubbles containing lines such as ‘They don’t like me’ or ‘People are watching Me’.
The user can then press a bubble and, like a reassuring friend, a new bubble will pop up saying something like, ‘They’re probably not even looking at me’ or ‘I know I’m strong in these situations’.
The developers plan to develop separate apps for acute and and milder sufferers of paranoia in about five years.