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Online impact on mental health must be taken seriously

On World Mental Health Day, we examine the impact of digital and social media on the mental wellness of youth.

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On World Mental Health Day (10 October), supported by the World Health Organisation, The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) notes that nine percent of all teenage deaths in the country are by suicide. It is the second leading and fastest growing cause of death among young South Africans in the 15-25 age group. 

Cassey Chambers, SADAG’s Operations Director, says 90 percent of adolescents who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness – frequently, depression. While some people do have a genetic tendency towards depression, others develop it as a result of loneliness and social isolation, bullying, loss, abuse, and conflict. And there’s a catalyst that this generation is having to contend with – social media. 

The first detailed study of how social media affects the mental health of young users has found that increased participation in social media networks (such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp and others) was associated with increased psychological distress – with the effects almost twice as severe among girls. 

MySociaLife, South Africa’s premier social media and online safety educator, is seeing the effects of social media first-hand when it engages with teens and tweens about their online life during its 10-module schools program.

“Students in ever program we run tell us about the pressure they feel around life online, and many agree that  it bends their character or values, leading to inappropriate or out of character behaviour,” says  Dean McCoubrey, founder of MySociaLife, which supports parents, teachers and psychologists to help children feel safer and behave smarter online. 

“This age group is not adequately equipped to manage the complexity of the varied risks, temptations and dangers online. When parents and teachers understand the development stages of kids and how these devices and platforms influence their neurochemistry at this vulnerable and immature stage, we can all start to grasp why this is happening,” he says. 

“The detrimental effects of social media can be reduced by educating not only teens and pre-teens, but also parents, teachers and school counsellors,” he says. “We created four programs, and not just a student program, because everyone has to help. Not enough people understand the complexity of how humans react and respond to social media, and what the consequences of those responses can be.” 

A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal highlights that ‘teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to develop mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behaviour.’ 

“This can worsen the device or game or social platform is removed suddenly, leading to actual withdrawal symptoms typical of any addiction,” says McCoubrey.

Furthermore, young people explore the internet on their own without the one-on-one guidance of parents or teachers, and even if filters are applied, they may stumble onto content that they’re not yet ready to process. 

Whether it’s being exposed to adult content, or feeling left out of social events that friends are posting about, or cyber bullying and intimidation, young people often have emotional experiences about online content that they don’t know how to deal with. 

They often suppress their feelings or feel embarrassed or scared to talk about what they’ve seen, which in turn leads to emotional withdrawal or even depression. Between 30 and 40% of teens and pre-teens say they cannot share their concerns with their parents, aligning with global data and emphasising that schools and parents should take children’s social media experiences much more seriously.” 

McCoubrey buys into technology completely, which he says is changing the world in so many life-changing, creative, entertaining, and philanthropic ways, but the fact remains children need digital education. 

“Even if you’re cynical, and don’t believe  the safety and mental health concerns, being educated about online issues will help them to be smarter digital citizens which will in turn help them to differentiate themselves in the future. If South Africa is to achieve its Fourth Industrial Revolution ‘promises,’ then programs like MySociaLife will need to be ubiquitous.

“We are one of the few organisations which know about the reality of what’s happening in this age group. We see and hear from learners who are struggling with what they experience online, whether it be something thrilling or shocking. The problem is that parents, teachers and guardians can be the last to know,” he says. 

World Mental Health Day gives parents and children the opportunity to start conversations about mental illness, emphasising that there is no shame in struggling with mental health, while re-establishing those vital real-life connections. With 75 percent of teen suicides having spoken about their intention before proceeding, there’s a strong possibility that parents, teachers and friends that listen carefully to depressed teens may indeed be able to act in time to save a life. 

McCoubrey says: ”So many kids are so ‘social’ and yet so many are also feeling alone – it’s the great paradox of social media. We will look back on this time, in a decade or two I think, and ask why we didn’t prepare our children more carefully about life online.”

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Did an earthquake take out SA Internet?

Seabed avalanches caused by an earthquake could have cut several undersea cables, leading to one of South Africa’s biggest Internet outages yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Picture by TooMuchCoffeeMan from pixabay.com

There is still no official explanation for freak breaks 11 days ago in two separate undersea cables that provide international access to South Africa’s Internet users. However, as reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, the most common causes of such breaks are damage by ship anchors and earthquakes at sea.

However, the freak occurrence of two separate cables being cut simultaneously far out at sea, as happened on the morning of 16 January, can only be explained by sea-bed activity.  One of the cables was cut in two places, and it is widely believed that a third major cable was also cut.

The cable damage mostly occurred in or near an area called the Congo Canyon, which starts inland and extends 220km into the sea. It is known for having the world’s strongest “turbidity currents”, underwater sediment avalanches over hundreds of kilometers, which are known to destroy undersea cables.

The most likely culprit is a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Atlantic Ocean near Ascension Island shortly before the cables were cut on the morning of 16 January. The earthquake occurred just before 8am South African time, and local ISPs reported losing international access from just before 10am. The epicentre of the earthquake was more than a thousand kilometres off the coast of Africa, but disturbances caused by seismic activity at sea become more powerful as they approach the coast. Combined with turbidity currents, this could well have taken out all cables in the area.

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) was cut in two places, and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT3) cable in one location. Industry insiders believe that the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was also cut, but it has not been publicly confirmed.

South Africa is connected to the global Internet via seven such cables, with a total capacity of 42.3 terabits per second (tbps).  These cables, in turn, connect to additional cables connecting the West and East coasts of Africa, with a single cable running from Angola to Brazil providing another 40 tbps.

However, it emerged in the past week that smaller ISPs in South Africa had bought capacity on only one or two cables. In a freak occurrence, two of the most commonly used cables, the WACS and SAT 3 cables, were cut simultaneously, plunging millions of Internet users into data darkness.

Customers of the major mobile network operators – Vodacom and MTN – were largely unaffected, as these tend to have both part-ownership and access to most of the cables running up both the East and West coasts of Africa.

Visit the next page to read about how ISPs have battled to reroute access, how massive resources are needed to deal with these kinds of outages, and when the ship will reach the breakage points.

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Lenovo express-delivers new range from CES to SA

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Lenovo has unveiled its new range of ThinkBook laptops, barely two weeks after they were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

The company’s newest sub-brand, ThinkBook, is intended to meet the demand for more aesthetically pleasing, yet agile and powerful devices.

The new range is aimed at small and medium enterprises. According to the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), there are more than 2-million SMEs in South Africa – although there are only 667,433 in the formal sector. This tallies with estimates in recent editions of SME Survey, produced by World Wide Worx, which suggest 650,000 active, formal businesses in South Africa. These SMEs employ about 14% of the South African workforce. 

Lenovo argues that access to affordable, yet efficient, technology is a crucial factor in aiding business success and contributing towards the success of the nation. The company has found, in its own research, that younger people prefer working, creating and communicating online “with stylish devices that make a statement”. This means they require streamlined laptops which can be used to collaborate from any remote location, to enhance productivity.

Lenovo said in a statement on Thursday night: “Backed by customer research, ThinkBook is specially designed for SMEs, who typically purchase consumer laptops for perceived design and price advantages but can no longer rationalise their lack of extended services and warranties – core needs of any business. ThinkBook allows growing firms to keep a competitive edge in attracting today’s young tech-savvy execs with trendy yet cost-effective devices. 

Thibault Dousson, general manager of  Lenovo for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said at the launch event: “With the capacity, SMEs have to grow and upskill the country’s workforce, they are perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between the public sector and large enterprise. Bearing in mind the demands of the digital economy, this sector needs skills and resources in order to compete, and that is where devices such as the ThinkBook come in.”

In South Africa, ThinkBook laptops are now available in 13-, 14- and 15-inch variants. The flagship ThinkBook 14 and ThinkBook 15 devices are powered by Windows 10 Pro and up to 10th Gen Intel Core processing, which Lenovo says combines high performance with intuitive, time-saving features. Options include Intel Optane memory, WiFi 6, and discrete graphics.

The ThinkBook 15 comes at just 18.9mm thin, while the ThinkBook 14 is a mere 17.9mm, both with FHD displays and two Dolby Audio speakers, dual-array, Skype certified microphones and a USB 3.1 (Gen2, Type-C) port.

Lenovo has also introduced the ThinkBook S series, including an elegant 13.3-inch ThinkBook 13s. The sleek and light device is constructed of a metallic finish on an all-aluminium chassis, alongside a narrow bezel display. As with the ThinkBook 14 and 15, the ThinkBook 13s also features advanced Intel processing and an FHD display, Dolby Vision and Harman speakers with Dolby Audio.

Visit the next page to read about the design and features of the new ThinkBook range.

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