A quarter of young women in the UK have suffered from anxiety and depression, according to a new survey released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figures were collected as part of a wide-ranging survey gauging the wellbeing of people aged between 16 and 24. They show that, despite an increase in the number of those who said their quality of life had improved since 2009, one in four young women said they had faced symptoms linked to poor mental wellbeing in 2014-15.
The report said that young women were “significantly more likely” than their male counterparts to recognise and admit being anxious or depressed, with less than one in six young men reporting similar symptoms.
The ONS report used data taken from surveys that focused on a person’s overall happiness – shown by their attitudes to issues such as relationships, work, education and finances – to create a nationwide picture.
The results show that while more than a third of young people aged between 16 and 19 who were questioned said they had a “very high” level of life satisfaction, this dropped to just a quarter among people aged between 20 and 24.
The study also reveals that in the four years from 2009-10 to 2013-14, the number of young people saying their mental health had “deteriorated” rose from 18% to 21%.
Tom Madders, campaign director at the mental health charity YoungMinds, said: “There is still a huge amount of misunderstanding about mental health conditions, making people less likely to open up to others if they are struggling to cope. This is particularly difficult for young people who face pressure, including stress at school, college or university and body image issues.”
He said that an environment of 24-hour access to social media led to some young people feeling they needed to “keep up the pretence of having a perfect life”.
Other figures from the study show that the number of young people who believe they are financially comfortable has increased since 2009-10. Seven years ago, 15% said they were struggling to get by, while by 2014-15 the number reporting financial hardship was 7% – and a significantly higher percentage (45%) said they were satisfied with their household income, up from about 30% in 2009-10.
The report added that levels of “general health satisfaction” had risen, with 56% saying they were “mostly or completely happy” in 2014-15, compared with about 52% the year before.
However, the figures also show a rise in households deemed to be living in poverty, based on families who earn less than 60% of the average UK income. One in four said they lived in a household at such a level, compared with 20% in 2008.
YoungMinds recently called on teachers, parents and carers to sign an open letter to the prime minister, Theresa May, urging her to place an increased emphasis in schools and colleges on improving young people’s mental health, and to recognise the pressures caused by exam stress, cyberbullying and fears over employment when they leave education.
Madders said: “A good quality of life includes having positive mental health and wellbeing, so it’s crucial that the problems which young people report are taken seriously and supported to prevent them escalating and going into crises.”
By Dan Carrier
13 April 2017