Mental health and young people – does the UK care?

mental health young people

According to recent statistics in the UK, a sixth of the adult population have a diagnosed mental health illness. The problem with the figures though, according to NHS Digital, is that in reality they probably don’t even scratch the surface.

Taking into account undiagnosed depression and post traumatic stress disorder, it is estimated that closer to one quarter of the population may at any given time be experiencing some kind of mental health problem.

Who does mental illness affect?

Typically, research shows that women are more likely to experience mental illness then men. Although this doesn’t relate specifically to psychotic illness, statistics show that woman are 6 per cent more likely then men to have had significant mental health problems in their lifetime. 

NHS Digital believe 20% of all women between the age of 16 and 65 are long-term victims of mental health issues. Compared to 14% of all men, the difference is significant.  However, as women are more likely to seek professional advice, and therefore be diagnosed this may be a major factor in the outcome of their suveys.

The most worrying trend however is less gender specific and focused more on the younger generation.

Are younger people becoming more “Stressed” than the previous generation?

While there is a presumption that elderly people are more prone to mental health conditions, dementia being one of the reasons for this, 75% of mental illnesses (three in four) start in Childhood.  50% of these (excluding dementia) take root before the age of 15.

It can take a decade for many young people to be diagnosesd after they first begin to show signs of symptoms – yet in an average class of 30 children, three will typically have a mental health problem. Add to that the delay in diagnosis and young people are often left until “crisis” point before any help is made available.

There are a number of known factors for this but new technology and poor lifestyle is increasingly tipping the scales.

For adolescents the economic uncertainty of the past decade is believed to be a worry but poor physical health and nutrition, according to a study by Oxford University, are also hugely important.

Family members tend now to eat alone more than the previous generation with fast food and convenience meals the easy way to feed young children during the busy working week. As a result Childhood obesity has increased ten fold, along with the stigma and mental problems that are a by-product of being overweight or obsessing with how much one eats.

Concerns for those in their late teens include higher and further education (can they afford it? will they be accepted?) along with school leavers worrying about exam results and employment. Those in their early twenties now also less likely than ever before to be able to afford their first home with trends showing the average age of first time buyers being those aged 30 and above.

Technology and mental health

Since 2010 an increase in the use of smart phones has led to a dramatic comparable rise in Social Media activity. Physchiatrists and mental health campaigners have linked the declining mental health of the younger generation to this increase. Peer-group pressure to embrace this technology and online bullying are now cited by Children as major issues of concern in their daily lives.

People use social media to vent about everything from politics, to customer service, but the downside is that these new information feeds often resemble an endless stream of stress.  A culture of “act immediately” or miss out has rapidly descended on Western civilisation. Children cite lack of online acknowledgement (likes, followers etc) as strong indicators of lower percieved popularity. The more this becomes the norm, the more people feel isolated.

In 2014, researchers in Austria found that participants reported lower moods after using Facebook for 20 minutes compared to those that simply browsed the internet. Constantly being informed that other people are having more fun, living fuller lives or seeing higher levels of interactivity when you aren’t part of this highlights your own shortcomings and although not real-life indicators of success tends to dampen the users overall mood.

New research highlighted by the University College London (UCL) in the UK Independent, that the use of apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, by young people, especially girls, showed a direct correlation between social media and depression.

It found that 38 per cent of heavy social media users (defined as those who use it for five or more hours a day), showed signs of severe depression. Previous studies have also concluded that social media can cause depression and anxiety in teenagers.

A quarter of girls in their studies showed signs of clinically relevant depressive symptoms compared to 11 percent of boys. The paper published in EClinicalMedicine Journal, is the first of its kind to look at associations beteen social media and symptoms of depression and analysed nearly 11,000 young people by the MCS (Millennium Cohort Study).

The problem with Social Media is that it gives a false sense of belonging when more than half of young people link mental illness with alienation and isolation. While online, they can see updates from all of their friends giving an impression that they are actively socialising, yet in reality they are starting at a screen for several hours alone.

Suicide and young people

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal that the number of suicides in men and women aged 20-34 in the UK is greater year on year than it has been for the past decade.

With the average wait for effective treatment being 10 years, opportunities are often missed to support young people before they cause self-harm, become suicidal, show signs of aggressiveness or drop out of school.

MQ: Transforming Mental Health, an international mental health research charity has suggested that over half of young people feel embarrassed about mental health illness.

The findings from a YouGov/MQ survey also show a high level of mental health problems in students, yet only 6% of UK health research spending goes on mental health. This is despite mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and phobias now affecting one in four of the overall population.

More worrying is that less than 30% of money spent on mental health research is focused on young people. It is estimated that for every peson affected by mental illness in the UK, £8 is spent on research. This is 22 times less than cancer and 14 times less than dementia.

If less than a third of that is then spent on research for mental health in young people – £3 per person, and 75% of mental illness is believed to start before the age of 18 – things are only going to get worse.

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