Mental Health and Young People


There’s no doubt that awareness and recognition of mental health as a public issue is growing here in the UK, in Europe and around the world.

Mental health issues include depression, stress, anxiety, behavioural disorders and various other conditions. The UK’s Mental Health Foundation (MHF) reports that a worrying one in ten children and young people are affected, with the majority of mental health problems beginning in childhood or adolescence. Youth Fed are working to offer as much support as possible for young people, as well as help and training for their families and teachers.

With Mental Health Awareness Week beginning on Monday 13th May, it is important to recognise and raise awareness around spotting the signs of mental health in young people.

A key study carried out in 2005 found that the average age for the onset of anxiety and impulse-control disorders is as low as 11 years. For substance use disorders this is later at around 20 years with another gap to the onset of mood disorders at around age 30.

It’s widely recognised that childhood and adolescence is a breeding ground for mental health issues as this is a major time of change and transition for young people. The challenges come quickly and regularly including starting school, moving on to secondary education and perhaps changing friendship groups and other influences along the way.

Bullying has been highlighted as another problem that can have a dramatic effect during these years. There are modern influences to add to the mix including the internet, computer games, mobile phones and social media. Then there’s the pressure of exams, further education and employment.

If you add family anxieties such as divorce, extended families and bereavement to other issues like puberty, sexual development and orientation then it can become a potentially explosive cocktail and likely to upset mental health.

Apparently, there’s limited data covering the scale of the problem although new statistics are expected soon. Looking back to the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) (Source – NHS Digital) some quite worrying facts were highlighted. The survey stated that a widening gap was developing between the mental health of young women and young men.

Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely (26%) to experience a common mental health problem as their male counterparts (9%). These statistics indicated higher rates of self-harm, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder among young women.

But everyone has mental health affecting emotional and psychological states and our social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. The exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known but a combination of physical, psychological and environmental factors are thought to play a role. Many mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder can run in families, which suggests a genetic link.

With that in mind, is there anything we can do to look after ourselves and prevent mental health problems? Having the right information, guidance and support particularly during childhood and adolescence can significantly reduce our chances of developing mental health issues.

This includes knowing how and where to ask for help, avoiding stress, talking about feelings, keeping active, eating well and drinking sensibly. Why not check out the comprehensive resources and advice available on the Mental Health Foundation website.

If the need is more urgent then the advice and support of a GP should be sought quickly. Should the situation become even more urgent and distressing then immediate help should be sought from A&E if a GP is unavailable.

It’s very difficult to quantify the full effects of mental health on society, families, the economy, education and employment. What the MHF is telling us is that one in six adults experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression each week. One in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point and nearly half of adults believe that in their lifetime they have had a diagnosable mental health problem, yet only a third have received any diagnosis.

Here at Youth Fed we’re very aware of the potentially devastating effects that mental health can have. Our programmes include Youth Fed Mental Health Awareness, N-Gage Children In Need, New Leaf and Get On Track.  We are also piloting a project in partnership with West Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group around the important role youth workers can have supporting the mental health of young people.  For a full list visit our programmes and to get involved, visit our programmes page.