Study: Mental health problems among adults on the rise

Written by M.A. Khan, CNN

More than half of the mental health problems faced by the youngest British adults today were related to factors that were not present for younger people who were the same age in 1980, according to a new report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The report, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, also found that stigma around mental health issues continues to inhibit treatment for people with mental health problems.

While a series of studies have also highlighted that negative experiences in school, work and between family members contribute to emotional distress, the results suggest that the crisis in young mental health is escalating.

In the 1980s, more than 1% of adults under the age of 25 suffered from mental health problems. Today the figure is more than twice that, according to the College.

Yet the research finds that the effect was less severe in women because they’d had less time to develop mental health problems before, whereas men had grown up with male peers and parents to support them.

The report says young adults from poorer backgrounds were more at risk, indicating that racism, sexism and family violence continue to impede young people’s progress.

Though the proportion of teenagers who had mental health problems has not changed significantly in the last two decades, today’s adult mental health problems are more severe, with symptoms found across a greater age range, and are seen in more of the population.

“We can see that many UK adults with mental health problems of any kind were not present in the 1980s,” says Dr. Christina Powell, the study’s co-author and royal college registrar.

“The big difference for many of today’s adults has been adult mental health problems arising at younger ages — they are often present from the age of 18 to 34, instead of earlier.”

The authors note that children and young people may experience their own mental health problems more than adults, and research from the UK’s Centre for Early Intervention of Child and Adolescent Mental Health found that, compared to adults, they had higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression and were less likely to engage in activities that would reduce their risk of developing such problems in adulthood.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care, the 2017/18 financial year saw a drop in admissions to the National Health Service for mental health problems, from 96,605 to 92,942. However, from 2012 to 2017, waiting times for admissions to mental health units more than doubled.

The report says a focus on treating adults through the NHS may have had a negative effect on adolescents’ access to care. “Many services, especially for young people and children, have tended to target adults, decreasing the scope for adolescents to receive treatments,” says Powell.

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