Mental health in the UK: Why are young people suffering at an unprecedented level?

It’s no secret that young people across the UK are struggling to cope with their mental health. 

With the demand for mental health services higher than ever before, over 3.2 million people in the UK were known to be in contact with mental health services from 2021-22. Alarmingly, over 30% of those individuals were under 18 years old.

There are so many factors driving the clear decline in adolescent mental health. Whether you’re supporting a young member of your family or working in education, it’s always worth knowing the driving factors behind the current mental health crisis. 

What’s the current state of mental health for young people living in the UK?

Research by leading mental health charity, Mind, has shown that one in six young people in England experienced a mental health problem in 2020. The most common mental health problems are depression and anxiety, but there’s also been a concerning rise in the number of young people presenting symptoms of eating disorders. 

The number of children receiving urgent referrals to crisis teams rose by 46% in the twelve months leading up to March 2023. It’s important to understand the reasons behind this concerning figure, especially if you’re responsible for a young adult at home.

Why are young people suffering so much with their mental health?

Long waiting lists for NHS services prevent children and adolescents from getting the basic treatment and should serve as early intervention, forcing them to live with their condition and wait for an appointment while their symptoms worsen. 

Inevitably, some individuals seek last-resort help in acute situations where they might be at risk of severe self-harm, psychosis, or suicide attempts. National failures in preliminary care can be blamed, and a lack of preventative measures has prompted reviews like the Essex Mental Health Inquiry.

The NHS simply can’t cope with the demand, with many services severely underfunded and understaffed as a result. There are other factors driving the growing mental ill health among the younger population, and many of these were exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Successive lockdown restrictions forced young people to stay inside, limiting crucial opportunities for personal growth through socialising and interacting with their friends.
  • Education was severely affected, with schools closed for months at a time. This forced many young people to change their routines and spend more time around their families, which was detrimental in many ways. 
  • Children whose families argue and show dysfunctional relationships are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders – so staying at home is likely to make any existing issues compounded and more profound. 
  • Childhood trauma has been closely linked to later mental health problems, especially that involving emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at home. When children are forced to ‘bottle up’ their problems or keep secrets about a traumatic past, this can manifest later in life as mental ill health. 

Where can young people find mental health support?

Help is available. If you know a young person suffering, it’s important to speak up in the most sensitive and helpful way possible. Even if you don’t feel comfortable approaching the subject with that person, make sure you find trustworthy pastoral support through their school, college, or any relevant network. 

If you’re looking for help in a crisis, several charities are offering a lifeline to young people. These include: 

  • ChildLine: 0800 1111
  • The Mix: 0808 808 4994
  • Samaritans: 116 123
  • SHOUT: Text SHOUT to 85258

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