One in five teenagers have poor mental health by age 17, study reveals

Almost one in five teenagers report high levels of “psychological distress” by the time they reach age 17, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by University College London (UCL), also found that young people were experiencing seriously high levels of mental illness even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

To carry out the study, the researchers asked participants to complete a questionnaire on their mental health, whether they had self-harmed in the last year, or had suicidal thoughts.

It was found that over one in five (22 per cent) females and one in 10 (10 per cent) males were experiencing “high levels of psychological distress” and symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Additionally, over one in four (28 per cent) females and one in five (20 per cent) males reported self-harming in the previous 12 months. This is more than double the number of men who reported self-harming at age 14 (nine per cent).

Worryingly, a further one in 10 females (10 per cent), and one in 25 males (four per cent) said they had self-harmed with “suicidal thoughts”.

Commenting on the study, author Dr Praveetha Patalay said: “These findings underline the urgent mental health support needed by this generation. Supporting young people who are suffering from mental ill-health should be made a priority, and more needs to be done to prevent such high levels of difficulties emerging for future generations.

“Age 17 marks an important age before many key life transitions, including the ending of compulsory education and, for some, moving away from the parental home. With the ending of support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) around this critical age, many young people fall through the gaps between CAMHS and adult mental health services, potentially further worsening outcomes at the precise time when support is most required.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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