Originally appeared in The OT Magazine August/September 2018

Standfirst – Scroll Free September is encouraging us to log out, switch off, close your Google Chrome window and open a real one. Whether your generation remembers or not, there was a life before Facebook (no, we don’t mean MySpace).

You’ve attempted Dry January, toyed with Stoptober and cringed at Movember, but there’s a new campaign on the lips of health advisers.

Scroll Free September does what it says on the tin. It challenges people to give up their ‘social social lives’ for a month and reclaim control, recognising we have become slaves to it.

Social media should be a temporary escape – a mind-numbing break from reality we aimlessly scroll through with one eye on the telly. Ran by the Royal Society for Public Health, the digital detox drive welcomes everyone to take up one of their plans; Cold Turkey, Social Butterfly, Night Owl, Busy Bee and Sleeping Dog.

Claire Murdoch, National Director for Mental Health, NHS England, said; “Scroll Free September is right to highlight growing concerns that social media is contributing to increasing mental health issues in young people, and a major ramp up of services will be needed to deal with the problems as part of the NHS 10-year plan. We need to see concerted action, with everyone taking responsibility, including social media giants, so that the NHS is not left to pick up the pieces of a mental health epidemic in the next generation.”

We won’t insult your intelligence by lamenting social media and mental health – we know it’s ‘false realities’. It isn’t news, but it’s never off the news.

But finally, it’s no longer all talk and no action. Telling young people what to do will get you nowhere. Would you have appreciated a grown-up telling you, that you were spending too much time doing something and it was bad for you? With teenagers, it’s about the ‘how’, not the ‘why’ and OTs know the secret is being client-focussed.

Unfollow the leader

One account that draws negative emotions is one too many, let alone an extensive list. An unfollow spree is akin to an emotional spring clean and if your client doesn’t want to give it up, making it a healthier place becomes priority. Looking at friends lists and identifying ‘problem’ accounts allows them to understand what parts are harmless and what’s unhealthy. If an account brings the slightest bit of anxiety or insecurity, click unfriend.

Don’t be a stalker

It can be hard to resist regularly checking a page, even when we know it evokes jealousy, guilt or inadequacy. ‘Internet stalking’ isn’t always sinister for the account owner, rather the searcher. Obsessing over someone else’s life is a toxic behaviour has no place in fun and safe social media. Teens who constantly check accounts of people with unattainable lifestyles or people they don’t like are damaging not only their current mental state, but their outlook on life in general.

Break the associations

Breaking habits is a key starting point. Things like not unlocking their phone as soon as their friend nips to the loo. On a recent holiday where one megabyte cost a fiver and there was no free Wifi, you wouldn’t believe how quickly I got used to sitting with my thoughts when my pal headed to the bar. We have created an association between being alone or bored and logging on. Try setting boundaries with your client.

Unfriend the app

If a client wants to take baby steps, uninstall apps. If you aren’t battling stubbornness, removing apps from home screens automatically cuts usage. Doing so means they aren’t met with a host of apps and the need to check all. Even if you break down usage app by app, checking one, then locking their phone is progress. Most social media can still be accessed through their web browser, but once an icon is removed, the constant reminder has been eliminated.

Do not disturb

With the exception of Messenger and WhatsApp, silencing notifications can be a great snap way of switching off. Realistically, urgent information won’t be relayed to your client through a Tweet or a tagged comment. Without a client’s phone constantly buzzing and nudging them towards apps daily routines or tasks at hand are far less likely to be interrupted. Even if they are making a conscious effort to stay off it, one notification can lead to half an hour of pointless scrolling.

Practice what you preach

At work, you may man the social media fort, so screen time may be out of your hands, so you can reclaim lunches and evenings with simple changes like not checking Facebook on your phone or avoiding devices altogether.

Remember it’s not just glossy, filtered snaps that let us fall into the trap of comparing; seeing our colleagues’ achievements can also be detrimental. Professional jealousy provokes stress as you compare your professional capacity to your peers’.

CPD is a requirement, but real life gets in the way. Full-time OTs may have children, a family member needing care or another job supplementing additional income – sometimes there just isn’t time.

If you are fulfilling your end of the CPD bargain you are already doing enough, and social media shouldn’t induce professional guilt.

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