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Why do young people struggle so much with their mental health?

Greg Devine

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Everybody will, at some point, struggle with their mental wellbeing. I’m not being ignorant, but mental health issues seem exceptionally high amongst young people. Is this because we talk more openly about it?


I don’t think it’s that simple.


People often brush the issue away with a ‘just suck it up’ attitude. But look at these statistics from Young Minds Charity and tell me there isn’t a serious problem:


‘One in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021.’


This is a massive increase from four years ago, when it was one in every nine children—which, for the record, is still far too many. At that age, you should be living an easy life. Of course, there are exceptions, but children should enjoy a carefree life as they explore themselves as people, as they make friends and memories.


‘In 2018-19, 24% of 17-year-olds reported having self-harmed in the previous year.’


This is pre-pandemic. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s almost one in every four 17-year-olds self-harming. To get to the point where you hate yourself enough to inflict physical damage shows a serious issue—one that I don’t think is taken seriously enough. Classroom sizes are around 32 students, on average; this means around eight students in every class have self-harmed. I don’t think anyone can fail to understand how much of a problem the UK currently faces when reading these statistics. We are experiencing a mental health crisis.


‘Suicide was the leading cause of death for males and females aged between five to 34 in 2019.’


Again, this is pre-pandemic. I can’t help but feel these statistics may have risen even higher during 2020/21. A lot was done during the pandemic, quite rightly, to ensure as many people as possible did not die from Covid. However, this same commitment is not being made to young people, whose poor mental health could see them die needlessly and prematurely.

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Lonely millennial lady feeling hopeless or melancholic, having relationship problem or nervous breakdown

Lonely millennial lady feeling hopeless or melancholic, having relationship problem or nervous breakdown

As a young person, I sacrificed two to three years of my life during the pandemic to protect my grandparents, the elderly and the clinically vulnerable. Time I should have spent enjoying a busy social life, exploring new relationships, and discovering who I am as a person. Young people did this to protect everyone else, yet I don’t see anything being done to protect the next generation…to protect the future of this country from ultimately hurting themselves, and in some cases, sadly dying.


‘Just over one in three children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition get access to NHS care and treatment.’


This just proves my point—not enough is being done in this country to help clinically vulnerable young people. I can appreciate that not everyone who struggles with mental health issues will actually want help; there’s still a stigma in this country surrounding the expressing of your personal issues.


Different movements have arisen recently. One that comes to mind is ‘Britain, get talking’. This was a collaboration between ITV, Mind and Young Minds. It was certainly a start, but I don’t think it went far enough. The sceptic in me feels this could have just been a publicity stunt from ITV, but I really hope this wasn’t the case.


ITV pausing their prime-time slot for a couple of minutes certainly helped bring the issue to the forefront of people’s minds, but it can’t just stop there. I personally believe the conversation needs to start in schools. Students should feel able to speak to somebody in confidence if they’re struggling with their mental health. Admitting you have an issue is hard, but believing that your friends or family could find out about your problems could be even more damaging.


I don’t have the answer to this country’s mental health pandemic but even recognising we have a problem is a brilliant start. Young people represent the future, and the government needs to do all it can to tackle this issue that effects so many.

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