Anxiety levels on the rise among young people

Major new survey involving 19,000 people
  • Deborah Condon

Levels of anxiety and depression have increased significantly among young people in recent years, a major new survey has found.

The My World Survey 2 looks at over 19,000 people aged between 12 and 25. It was conducted by the UCD School of Psychology in collaboration with the youth mental health organisation, Jigsaw.

It is a follow-up to the My World Survey 1, which was published in 2012.

According to the findings, there has been "a notable increase in anxiety and depression among young people". In fact, those who took part in the My World Survey 2 were "much more likely to be in the moderate, severe or very severe ranges for depression and anxiety than adolescents and young adults in the My World Survey 1".

The survey noted that levels of protective factors that are associated with mental health, such as good self-esteem, resilience and optimism, have decreased since the last survey, with females in particular recording decreases these areas.

A number of factors were found to be strongly associated with depression and anxiety. These included sleep, physical activity, social media use and pornography use.

When it came to suicidal ideation and self-harm, 10% of young adults and 6% of adolescents said they had attempted to take their own life.

Among young adults who accessed help or support after a suicide attempt, almost half found it very difficult to get the support they needed.

Meanwhile, 38% of young adults said they had ever deliberately hurt themselves without wanting to take their own life. This was much more common among females.

The survey did find that adolescents in the My World Survey 2 were less likely to have been bullied than adolescents in the My World Survey 1. They were also less likely to have been in trouble with the Gardai and to have drank alcohol.

However, among those who did report drinking alcohol, they were more likely to be problem or hazardous drinkers than adolescents in the first survey.

Not surprisingly, social media use was huge among adolescents, with 96% reporting having a social media profile or account. Of those with a social media profile, 96% had Snapchat, 90% had Instagram and 54% had Facebook.

At least one-third of adolescents said they spent more than three hours per day online.

Among young people in their senior cycle of school, 48% said they had watched pornography. Among these, 88% had searched for a website themselves, while 12% had received an email or clicked on a link and viewed images they did not want to see.

Among those who watched pornography, 33% did so more than once a week and overall pornography use was much more common among males.

Meanwhile, when it came to young adults, those in the second survey were much less likely to report that they enjoyed family life compared to those in the first survey.

On a positive note, they were also less likely to have been bullied or seen bullying compared to those in the earlier survey.

However worryingly, 40% of young adults admitted that they do not talk about their problems.

Speaking at the launch of the survey, UCD lead researcher, Prof Barbara Dooley, pointed out that this research is unique in terms of the size of the sample across the age range 12-25 years, but also because it includes positive factors as well as risk factors, leading to more balanced findings.

"In terms of the rise in anxiety, unfortunately this was not an unexpected finding. We know from our research linking with international colleagues and working with front line staff, that anxiety internationally is more prevalent now compared to when we conducted My World Survey 1," she commented.

Meanwhile, according to Jigsaw CEO, Dr Joseph Duffy, while the last decade has seen "a considerable growth in awareness and conversation about young people's mental health, what is evident from the data is that more needs to be done to address the main issues affecting our young people".

"The increased levels of anxiety and depression, the decreased levels of self-esteem, optimism and life satisfaction and growing trends of self-harm are of particular concern," he said.

However, he also emphasised that the publication of this survey is "vitally important".

"It gives us new insights into, and a better understanding of, young people's mental health and wellbeing. It can be, and must be, instrumental in building and improving our collective knowledge in the area of youth mental health and in establishing new responses. This is opportunity at hand, one we all must grasp," Dr Duffy said.

The My World Survey 2 can be viewed in full here. For more information on Jigsaw, click here.

 


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