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We’re almost in a mental health epidemic, says Goldie Hawn, and change needs to start young

Key Points
We need to talk about children and online time

After decades of starring in major Hollywood movies, actress Goldie Hawn has shifted her career focus to improving children's mental health — and there is a lot of work to be done, she told CNBC at the World Government Summit in Dubai.

"We have a serious problem of mental illness today, it's almost an epidemic — we have to really look at it, and not be afraid to look at it, in order to mitigate some of these problems and create a stronger emotional stability," Hawn stressed. "Yes, there's going to be mental illness, but not where it is today."

The Hawn Foundation, which she created in 2003, has produced MindUP, a teaching and learning framework developed for children and pre-teens in schools all over the world to help with mindfulness and emotional learning. Fifteen years after its inception, MindUP operates in hundreds of schools across 11 countries. "Every child deserves an equal chance to thrive, and so together with researchers, scientists, and educators I created the MindUP program," the foundation's website says.

Axel Schmidt | AFP | Getty Images

"It was a dream to have a foundational program that will help children's mental stability and resilience basically throughout the world, because we need it," Hawn said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. "Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide," the WHO reported late last year.

The actress pointed to the uptick in suicide deaths by teens in recent years. She noted that suicide is the second-leading cause of death in teenagers aged 15 to 19, and for younger children, the third-leading cause of death.

"This is suicide — stress, bullying, fear, depression, there are many reasons why our children are actually taking their own lives."

Does social media play a role in endangering the mental health of young people? Absolutely, the actress believes.

"Social media has a tremendous amount to do with aspects of our mind, and keep in mind that the brain itself does not finish growing till you're 24 years old," Hawn added. So kids are exposed to things they may not be ready to learn, which can contribute to their isolation.

She shared some sentiment with actor and comedian Jim Carrey, who recently announced he was selling his Facebook shares and closing his account after criticizing the effect the social media giant was having on young people.


So if you want to help your children's mental health, Hawn said, it has to start at home and it has to start young.

"If you have the intention that you want your children to have a healthy mind, and not give them more than they can handle, then you have to be really vigilant on how you allow them to be online, that's number one."

Number two, she said: "You have to get offline. And that means that mommy, you have to put your phone down. You have to look at the eyes of your child when they talk to you, they have to have your full attention. You can't be on your phone all the time, because that's what they see. It's about engagement — it's stealing your intimacy."