Exploring Virtual Lives


Exploring Virtual Lives

The Western Health hosted a conference “Virtual Lives: The Impact of New Technology on the Emotional Health and Well-Being of Young People” on 16 February 2011 at the City Hotel, Londonderry. Funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA), the purpose of the event was to raise awareness about the impact of new technology on young people’s emotional health and well being. 


Many people don’t realise how social media such as the internet and use of mobile phones impacts on the lives of young people and often tend to see it as a fad. However, over 50% of the world's population is under 30 years of age and 96% of them have joined a social network.


The Western Trust Health Improvement Department has recognised that social media is a powerful medium, that can be used to share health messages and to support individuals to make healthier choices. The conference was used as a platform to highlight issues and explore opportunities for future work with partners in the community and voluntary sectors.


Western Trust Head of Health Improvement, Dr Maura O'Neill said: “The conference was organised as a result of issues raised by practitioners delivering sexual health programmes to young people across the province. Evidence suggests that practitioners are not always aware of what young people are able to access online or via new technology. Although most information is positive and beneficial, unfortunately some young people will unknowingly put themselves at risk online or by using mobile phones inappropriately.”


The conference addressed how new technology has the potential to change the lives of young people. The main issues highlighted were the use of social media, internet safety, cyberbullying, sexting, the use of pornography and its impact on personal relationships and how the internet can be used to provide support to people to make healthier life style choices.


Brendan Bonner, Head of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement (West), PHA, highlighted the links and impacts of new technologies across a range of lifestyle choices in the modern world.  He said, "The realities of the virtual world are not only about young people, but the population as a whole - how we communicate, shop and even if we exercise or not.  The internet can give us access to information and support, break down communication barriers and open our minds to new ideas, but it also puts us at risk regarding the quality and accuracy of the information, how we open our lives to strangers and the risks to our well being,  when we take less care than we should.


“We often feel that young people don't communicate, but oftent their virtual world is where they express their emotions and feelings, the challenge for us is to learn how  to communicate with our young people and get positive messages into their virtual world that will impact positively on their health and wellbeing."


Western Trust Lifeskills Team Lead, Sonia Montgomery added: “This is a new area but one that Health Improvement is keen to explore. New technology is fast becoming an effective way of communicating with key target groups such as young people because of its potential positive impact on emotional health and well being.”


For further information, about the conference contact Sonia Montgomery, Team Lead Health Improvement Department Western Health and Social Care Trust at 028 7186 5127 or sonia.montgomery@westerntrust.hscni.net