The increase in the number of young people staying in education after school may explain why mental health problems among teenagers have risen over the past 30 years.
Research released today by the Nuffield Foundation found today’s teenagers are far more likely to experience mental ill health than teens three decades ago.
Teenagers in the mid-2000s were twice as likely to frequently feel depressed or anxious than those growing up in the mid-1980s, the research found.
Researchers explored social trends which may have influenced the rise and found one of the most significant was young people staying in education rather than seeking paid employment. This has led to a longer and less structured period of adolescence, the research found.
“Today’s young people are in educational and training environments populated almost entirely by their peers, rather than the more mixed environments of work,” said Dr Ann Hagell, chief author of the book Changing Adolescence, in which the research is published.
“There is virtually no youth labour market and the future for this generation looks very different. We have seen significant changes to the structure of the average day and to how 16 to 18 year olds spend their time, and this may have an impact on their well-being,” she said.
The research also found today’s teenagers are more exposed to drugs and alcohol.
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns, policy and participation at the mental health charity YoungMinds, said the rising levels of mental health problems highlighted by the research reflect the pressure teenagers are under.
“With zero job prospects, university increasingly financially unviable, increasing pressure to follow the latest consumer trends and worrying rates of online bullying, this research shows just how difficult it is for young people growing up in the 21st century,” she said.
Russell said the findings showed why more money should be put into mental health services for children and young people.
“For every pound spent by the NHS, specific services for children and young people’s mental health receive less than a penny. It’s time we recognised that the wellbeing of young people is vital if we want to have a mentality healthy society for generations to come,” she said.
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