The recent news of the Liverpool University study into the experience of teenagers suggest that one in four girls suffers from symptoms that are close to depression (it’s 1 in 10 for boys).  Dr Praveetha Pataly (the lead researcher) suggested ‘teenagers, particularly girls, are facing more mental health difficulties than previous generations’.  At Creative Youth Network, our experience reflects this. We are seeing a consistent rise in mental health issues at all ends of the spectrum. 

The good news is that this is partly down to less stigmatisation of mental health issues and a willingness amongst young and old to talk about their experiences more. However, at the same time we see stress, anxiety and depression rising amongst the teenagers we work with. 

Along with a reduction in services to support young people, this creates a ‘double whammy’ of problems and leads to, at best, young people not reaching their potential and, at worst, ruined lives. Where a teacher or youth worker might have been the first port of call when things start to go wrong, the lack of time and services mean young people sink deeper before getting help. The growing pressures of qualifications, student debt, online bullying, finance, body image and more are pushing more young people into feeling anxious at the same time as services to prevent these issues are being reduced. 

This often leads to us only dealing with symptoms.

We achieve a great deal for young people, getting them into work, back into education, teaching new skills and helping them to reach their potential.  And while teenagers will always need to ‘find themselves’ we don’t often stop to ask why they face so many problems in the first place.

As professionals, we consistently look to intervene early in young peoples lives. Stopping minor problems from becoming big problems that damage young people’s life chances and cost society and government more. But we are still looking at the symptoms rather than preventing the problems in the first place. We seem not to understand it is better that a youth worker has a relationship with a young person in the first place that means they come to speak with them about the bullying online before it escalates into physical violence or depression, but we rarely stop to ask why it happens in the first place.

Mental health issues, stress and anxiety are all rising in young people and we are investing in NHS, youth services, teacher training and more to help cope with and respond to it. But we are doing nothing to reduce the stress and pressure in the first place.

Often the pressure comes in incremental and unnoticeable ways: the rise of social media allows bullies to prey 24/7 with no respite, our economy relies more and more on the quality of our education leading to more pressure to achieve in exams and leaving more people behind, society is more mobile meaning families are often dispersed, housing and the cost of living is higher putting more pressure on parents and therefore their children. 

We know that prevention is better than cure and this is a mantra repeated by politicians from all parties, but when the time comes to choose where the money goes, the immediate and real demands of crisis management wins out almost every time. 

Find out more about our intensive one to one support available for young people