The Revd Dr Gerry Clinton gave a timely and well received presentation on mental health and general wellbeing at Cahans Meeting House, Ballybay on Friday 19 January last to an audience in excess of 60 people.  Dr Clinton is a registered Mental Health Nurse, was a lecturer at DCU for ten years, and now leads the Ballybay group of Presbyterian congregations.  At the outset he said he was approaching the topic not from a spiritual or religious perspective but concentrating largely on social media which he said is not unlike using slot machines where we get intermittent positive approval with a rush of dopamine, the feel-good factor in the brain. The second hook that social media uses to get people addicted is the drive for social approval.  However, the inordinate time spent on screens can unfortunately lead to deleterious effects in our personal lives.   Citing studies that show our attention span is reducing, newspaper reading is plummeting, young people losing social and conversational skills, and our cognitive ability (thinking skills) are weakening, he asked us to consider how we can get a better balance in our lives with our use of screen time.  He continued: “social media has a polarising effect in society where too often issues are reduced to black and white thinking or a case of one side totally right and the other totally wrong. It`s too often an always accessible forum where extreme views are quickly expressed in a short space of time.”

What can we do?  The speaker suggested that our minds be more open, more accepting and be willing to listen.  Don`t be afraid to talk about a problem to a listening ear.   The speaker is a strong advocate of seeking counselling.   He related how counselling has helped him in his own personal life and professional career.  Counselling allows one to say things that can`t perhaps be easily said to family members, finding out things about themselves they didn`t know.  Counselling can relieve us of dragging a bag of repressed emotions e.g. bereavement or relationship breakup or what parents or teachers may have said to us many years ago. The process becomes a case of darkness into light.

The speaker remarked that some commentators are likening social media to how cigarettes were regarded in the 1950s. We don`t yet fully understand the potential hidden damage of excessive screen time.  The speaker quoted social scientist Cal Newport: “the most important resource we possess: the minutes of our lives.  Dr Clinton posed the question – could we do a single day without Facebook? He confirmed how he personally came off Facebook in 2016 despite the fear of losing contact with his friends which didn`t happen.  Further quoting Newport: “teenagers have lost the ability to process and make sense of their emotions, or to reflect on who they are and what really matters, or to build strong relationships, or even to just allow their brains time to power down their critical social circuits, which are not meant to be used constantly, and to redirect that energy to other important cognitive housekeeping tasks.”   Dr Clinton concluded by stating that adults need to lead by example, and to ask themselves the question of social media: Do I really, really need it?

After a Q + A session David Nesbitt, Chairperson, thanked Dr Clinton.  Tea/coffee and refreshments were served by committee members.  Articles from the Cahans Thrift Shop, Ballybay  were also on sale, along with  copies of Full Circle, David Nesbitt`s newly revised and updated book, the comprehensive history of Ballybay`s Presbyterian churches.

The next event at Cahans (Eircode H18 E7N1) is Harmony in the Air: A Musical Evening with Robert Brown and family, Ballybay Community Choir, and the Ballybay Country Gospel Group, Friday 16 February, 8 -10pm.