Photo: Alden Chadwick
Most of the issues that cause problems for young people – smoking, drinking, drugs, teen pregnancies – are in decline. Yet mental health problems seem to be on the increase.
There are no clear figures and some of the rise may be to do with more openness and better diagnosis – but, anecdotally, there seem to be more mental health problems around for young people, from depression and anxiety to eating disorders and self-harm.
One in four adults will have mental health problems, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that young people are also affected. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10% of young people will have a mental health problem at any one time and 20% in any one year.1
Early diagnosis has been shown to help. It is often reassuring for young people to realise that their feelings have a name and that there are treatments available. Yet it can be a very difficult issue for parents and children to discuss. Young people say their parents often blame themselves and worry that they have done something, or not done something, to cause the problem.
In fact, mental illness doesn’t discriminate: it affects people of all types and positions in society. Yet there is still stigma: nearly three quarters of young people fear the reactions of their friends and 95% of young people with mental illness say they have experienced rejection. Often, this can make the condition worse.
This is why the support of parents is so vital.
Young people also say that their mental illness is often dismissed as 'a phase.' They insist that, just because they're young, it doesn't mean that what they're going through is simply passing adolescent angst.
Nobody knows why mental illness appears to be on the increase among young people, although there are all sorts of theories, from increased exam pressure through to less freedom for children; from less focus on subjects like drama and art to the busyness of modern life, preoccupied parents and worries about work and the future.
Any or all of these may be involved – or something else entirely. But one thing we do know: young people say they desperately want the understanding and support of their parents.
For help in talking about mental health, see Time to Change.
For practical support, contact Young Minds.
1Lifetime Impacts: Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health, Understanding The Lifetime Impacts, Mental Health Foundation, 2005