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Posted 16 May 2012

UCD School of Psychology and Headstrong study shows one third of young people have experienced mental health distress

The My World Survey, Ireland's first comprehensive national study of youth mental health, was released on 16 May 2012 by Headstrong - The National Centre for Youth Mental Health and the UCD School of Psychology. It tracks, for the first time, evidence of the damaging link between drinking behaviour and mental health in young people up to the age of 25.

The Survey collates the views of 14,306 young people aged 12-25 years, making it the most indepth and insightful baromoter of the mental health and well-being of Ireland's adolescents and young adults. This is the first time that research in Ireland has studied this wide age range and explored both risk and protective factors which affect the mental health of young people. It was launched by Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People.

Nearly half of all sixth years in secondary school and over 60% of young adults (17-25) reported drinking behaviour outside the normal range as measured by the WHO. Depression, anxiety and stress were found to be significantly higher when young people engaged in harmful drinking or were classified as possibly alcohol dependent. For young adults, specifically, strong links were found between excessive drinking and suicidal behaviour.

More than a fifth of young adults indicated that they had engaged in self-harm and 7% reported a suicide attempt. The My World Survey shows that nearly one in three surveyed had experienced some level of mental health distress. Suicidal thoughts, rates of self-harm and suicide attempt were higher in young adults who did not talk about their problems or seek help.

Six out of 10 young adults reported being stressed by their financial situation. This was linked to lower levels of positive well-being such as optimism and higher levels of distress and excessive drinking.

Pictured at the launch (l-r): Dr Amanda Fitzgerald, UCD School of Psychology and Dr Barbara Dooley, Director of Research, Headstrong
Pictured at the launch (l-r): Dr Amanda Fitzgerald, UCD School of Psychology and Dr Barbara Dooley, Director of Research, Headstrong

Dr Barbara Dooley, Headstrong's Director of Research and senior lecturer at UCD School of Psychology, said:
"We must see youth mental health as a national priority. There is no health without mental health. For some young people in Ireland, growing up is complex where issues such as problem drinking, financial stress and rates of self-harm are having an enormous impact on their lives. We have never had access to such rich information that enables us to identify critical protective factors that help young people to resolve the challenges they face, and also the risk factors that compound their distress."

More than 70% of young people said that they received high or very high support from a special adult. The study strongly confirms that the presence of 'One Good Adult' is important to the mental health of young people. It has a positive impact on their self-belief, confidence, coping skills and optimism about the future. This 'One Good Adult' can be a parent, grandparent, teacher, sports coach or someone who is available to them in times of need.

Talking about problems is associated with lower mental distress and more positive well-being. Approximately two thirds of young people reported that, when they had problems, they usually talked about them with someone. Males were less likely to talk about their problems than females. Depression is the experience that young adults are most likely not to talk about with anyone.

Commenting on the findings, Minister Lynch said that "approximately 70% of health problems and most mortality among young people arise out of mental health difficulties. Almost three quarters of all serious mental health difficulties first emerge between the ages of 15 and 25".

"The My World Survey findings highlight how all young people, especially those who are not coping with their lives need our support, now more than ever," she said "We are all potential 'Good Adults' in the lives of young people. We have such an influence on their sense of belonging, self-esteem and how they cope with difficulties. The My World Survey focuses in on the number of 12 to 25 year olds who are not coping and it highlights the crucial need for early intervention".


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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UCD School of Psychology and Headstrong study shows 1/3 of young people have experienced mental health distress.
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