Study paints bleak picture of adolescent mental health

A huge number of young people suffer from mental health problems that adversely affect their lives, according to research published yesterday by The Priory.

The study by a group of adolescent mental health experts depicts a society in which young people are experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol, dealing with violence in relationships and at home, and contemplating suicide at an ever-younger age.

Their research is based on interviews with 1,000 young people in England as well as analysis of figures from the Office of National Statistics.

It found that more than a million adolescents have wanted to self-harm, and more than 800,000 have done so. Nearly one million young people have felt so miserable that they have considered suicide, with more than one in five 18-19-year-old girls admitting to feeling this way.

Dylan Griffiths, a psychiatrist at the Priory Ticehurst House Hospital, said that 30 years ago it was rare to see young people who self-harmed. “Today, self-harming is a dramatic, addictive behaviour, a maladaptive way for growing numbers of youngsters to relieve their psychological distress by literally cutting themselves off from disturbing thoughts and feelings,” he said

Half a million young people had experienced bullying or violence at home, and the same number felt troubled because they weren’t sure of their sexuality.

When it comes to alcohol and drugs, the study found “marijuana, cocaine and alcohol are as ubiquitous as traffic on the street for today’s teens”. Nearly five million 12-19-year-olds admitted to drinking alcohol, including 49% of all 13-year-olds. Nearly two and a half million young people had been offered illegal drugs, and almost two million had used them.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said the calls it received from young people reflected The Priory’s findings.

“There are increasing numbers of young women and young men choosing more brutal ways to harm themselves. We are alarmed by the numbers being triggered into a drug induced psychotic breakdown by the availability and society’s tolerance of street drugs, particularly chemical hybrids like skunk, and alcohol. For those who are genetically or otherwise vulnerable, being pushed to flashpoint at an early age can lead to lifelong mental illness,” she said.

Griffiths said more resources, facilities and funding were desperately needed to combat the problems. “As a society, we need to ask: do we value adolescence and can we create a culture in which young people can thrive? If not, can we live with the fallout?,” he said.

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