We need to understand the causes to inform prevention
Universities UK recently reported a fivefold increase in the number of students disclosing mental health conditions since 2007 and growing pressures on student mental health services, despite only a modest rise in student’s numbers. A growing number of UK and international studies show that affective disorders in young people are rising substantially, particularly among girls and young women.
Causes of the escalation are uncertain. Some studies point to a rise in presentation and diagnosis rather than a true increase in incidence. More people self reporting problems may partly reflect greater willingness to share feelings, such as suicidal thoughts, due to better mental health literacy.
if the situation reflects a real deterioration in mental health of young people, there are several possible explanations.
The young people affected are “ generation z”, born in the mid 1990s and early 2000s. They grew up in the age of social media, the great recession 92008), increases in family breakdown, growth of international terrorism, and , in the UK, student debt and predicted gaps in prosperity between them and their parents.
Academic pressures at school cause stress, and the UK government has focused on testing in recent years.
Many of these phenomena affect both boys and girls, although some factors, such as school performance pressure and lower family income, may be more likely to affect girls.
We need to look beyond well recognised risk factors for poor mental health, such as abuse and trauma, to problems that have arisen in recent decades, that affect counties beyond the UK, and that affect girls more than boys.
One explanation is the rise in young people’s use of social media after the launch of Facebook (2004), Snapchat (2011), and other platforms. Social media use may result in less face to face communication, overdependency on being “liked” for social validation, and pressure to keep up with discussions 24 hours a day, leading to poor sleep. Recent research provides some support for these concerns, with greater effects on girls than boys.
A whole population approach is required including schools, universities, workplaces, job centres and homes, so that emotional wellbeing and mental health becomes the foundation of these children’s experiences throughout life’s stages and transitions. This would build a generation of young people with a deeper understanding of the importance of their own and others’ mental health, the skills required to keep healthy, and an awareness of the signs of being unwell, so that they can seek help earlier for themselves and respond better to others in difficulty.
I believe an integrated approach is required. From my experience dealing with these individuals, is paramount to offer them a non bias support structure, to help them throughout life’s challenging seasons and transitions. My passion is to create more clarity so that mastery can then take place, and helping these young population deepen their awareness would build a generation of young adults with a deeper understanding of the importance of their own and others’ mental health, the skills required to keep healthy, and an awareness of the signs of being unwell, so that they can seek help earlier for themselves and respond better to others in difficulty.
Extract from: The bmj, July 2018