Adolescence is the prime time for mental health disorders to emerge, with half of all mental problems beginning in early teenage years. Researchers from Liverpool and London have uncovered a decrease in the mental wellbeing of UK teenagers; a finding that is mirrored in teenagers across the globe.

Data was collected from two large groups of 14-year-olds, the first group born in 1991-92 and the second in 2000-01. The study found a shocking 60 percent rate of increase in high depressive symptoms in just one decade.

In contrast, anti-social behaviour, often linked with mental health problems, has declined amongst young people. The Office for National Statistics reports indicate that the prevalence of weekly drinking amongst teenagers had dropped by around 20 percent between 2003-2014.

Between 2005-15, self-harm has increased by four percent and depressive symptoms by seven percent. Conversely, substance abuse appears to have decreased, with the percentage of teenagers who have never had alcohol or cigarettes going up by nearly five percent.

These recent statistics suggest the link between substance abuse and mental health problems may be more complex than previously thought. This begs the question: what is causing this decrease in the mental well-being of adolescents? And what can be done to combat it?

Modern teenagers go to bed later and sleep less than the recommended eight hours. They also have higher average BMIs and perceive themselves to be overweight.

Co-author of the study Dr Praveetha Patalay concluded: ‘The increasing trends of poor sleep, obesity and negative body image might help explain rising mental health difficulties experienced by young people’.

Further research regarding the changes in sleep behaviour and weight perceptions as potential causal factors of rising mental health difficulties is certainly needed.  

The last decade has seen the rise of social platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, along with huge advances in video gaming. Several studies have shown correlation between depression and social media and gaming addictions.  

The increase in negative perceptions from teenagers about their body image may be attributed to Instagram’s constant influx of seemingly ‘perfect’ and ‘beautiful’ images of male and female physiques. The 2017 survey by the Royal Society for Public Health found that Instagram scored the worst out of all social media sites for its negative effects on body image and sleep.

The World Health Organisation described ‘gaming disorder’ as a mental health condition in which gaming takes precedence over other aspects of a person’s life, to detrimental effect. The popular video game Fortnite has been described as more addictive than heroin and equally destructive to a child’s mental development.

The decrease in antisocial behaviour and changes in sleep behaviour may be a consequence of new-age technology keeping children inside and awake for longer.

It has been suggested that psychological health disorders that first appear in childhood are more likely to cause detrimental consequences for health, social and economic outcomes in later life.  

Due to this unprecedented rise in mental health problems, understanding the link between health behaviours and teenage mental health should be a priority for future research, especially if this upward trend continues.


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