More than one in three adults between the ages of 18 and 24 report having experienced a mental health issue over the last 12 months, research for HuffPost UK has found.
The poll, conducted with BMG Research, reveals almost one in four people in the UK (23%) say they have experienced a mental health issue in the last year, but this rises to as high as 35% for those aged 18-24.
In comparison, less than 4% of those aged 65 and over said they have recently been affected by a mental health issue.
The exclusive research follows a study from the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Liverpool last week, which found a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.
The latest findings suggest mental health issues are extending into adulthood, with social housing and financial stress contributing to the nation’s mental ill-health. Meanwhile understaffing of the NHS remains a prominent concern for many.
The survey of more than 1,500 adults found those living in social housing are more than three times as likely (37%) to say that they have experienced a mental health condition than those who own their home outright (11%).
What’s more, some 45% of those who say that they are struggling with their personal finances say they’ve experienced a mental health episode in the past 12 months, compared with just 13% of those who say they are comfortable or well off.
Natasha Mitchell, a volunteer with the not-for-profit housing association Home Group, was granted social housing at the age of 19 due to problems in her family home, where she slept on the floor.
However, once granted accommodation she struggled to pay her bills due to her declining mental health.
“The council house I moved into was small but nice and the estate was quiet. However, I was struggling with depression so I found looking after myself and my home a struggle,” she told HuffPost UK.
“On bad days I was barely getting out of bed. I fell behind with my rent payments and was made homeless.”
Commenting on the survey findings, Stephen Buckley, head of information at the charity Mind, said there are lots of factors that could impact your mental health between the ages of 18 and 24, but learning to navigate adulthood can often contribute.
“People may feel societal expectations and pressures to take on the role and responsibilities of an adult, including leaving the family home for the first time to study or work and supporting yourself financially, which can cause a great deal of stress and potentially even mental health problems,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Diet, sleep and alcohol consumption also play a part in our mental health, and in your late teens and early twenties, we don’t necessarily give these things the priority they deserve.”
Kate Elliot, a 26-year-old from York, has been struggling with her mental health since she was 15 years old, but wasn’t diagnosed with anorexia, depression and anxiety until at university, aged 19.
She’s since also been diagnosed with OCD and spent 10 months in a psychiatric hospital as a student, leaving her feeling like she’s missed certain “rites of passage”.
“My mental health problems have robbed me of some of the experiences I should have experienced as a young adult,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Throughout university, my mental health got in the way of so much of the fun things I should have been enjoying. I lacked the energy, stamina and confidence to do a lot of activities I wished I could have been involved in and I frequently had to let people down and pull out of the things.”
Bradley Cates, a 22-year-old mental health advocate from Southport, also said suffering from a mental illness as a young adult can be particularly difficult because you’re trying to find your way in the world.
“As a young person, suffering from depression was terrifying. I was scared of having no future,” he said.
“When I felt I had no future and I had let everyone I know and love down, I felt like they wouldn’t care what happened to me because I was a failure. University is supposed to be a fantastic experience, but it ended up being something I want to forget about, particularly the last year of my studying.”
Both Cates and Elliot said they are concerned about the levels of support available on the NHS for mental health, something that was reflected by the survey results.
When thinking about the NHS, the biggest concern to those who participated in the poll was understaffing (15%). This was as high as 21% for Labour voters.
Elliott said although she currently has a “fantastic GP” who acts as her main source of mental health support, this hasn’t always been the case.
“I have had four different CPNs [community psychiatric nurses] over the last five years, including one who left without me being told,” she said.
“There has been no real continuity of care or consistent support. I received fantastic inpatient treatment for 10 months on an eating disorder unit, but following my discharge there was very limited outpatient support, making it really difficult to maintain the positive changes I had made.
“It feels really challenging to build any trust with a professional which may enable you to tackle the really difficult underlying issues that impact on your mental health.”
Charlie Smith, now 23, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after attempting suicide at the age of 20. Despite continuing to have suicidal thoughts, Smith also claims to have seen “a different psychiatrist almost every time [she] had an appointment”.
“This means that I’ve spent most appointments repeating past information, instead of addressing current problems,” she said.
Elliott believes currently, NHS services tend to act on a “reactive basis”, rather than providing preventative support, but Smith argued that even reactive services are understaffed.
She struggled to speak to someone after calling the NHS Crisis service when feeling suicidal. NHS mental health crisis teams are designed to help patients when they “no longer feel able to cope or be in control of [their] situation”, and Smith said she was previously given the number by a health professional.
“I had written a suicide note and planned how I was going to take my own life. However, at last minute, I decided not to go through with it, and instead ring the NHS crisis team,” she explained.
“Despite telling them I was on the verge of a suicidal attempt, they told that they were too busy to talk and they would call back later. After five hours, and my parents ringing them several times to try and get someone to help me, they finally called back. Can you imagine an ambulance taking five hours to help a person who was close to death due to a ‘physical’ illness?”
She added that she is extremely grateful to have friends and family that offer support when she is mentally unwell, adding: “but what about if I didn’t have that support network? As bad as it sounds, I’m pretty sure I would be dead by now”.
HuffPost UK has asked the NHS for comment on these issues and is awaiting response.
Cal Strode, senior media officer at the Mental Health Foundation highlighted that the high number of 18-24 year olds identifying that they’ve experienced a mental health issue could also suggest a more positive trend of growing awareness about mental health issues, and willingness to talk about it.
An increase in public understanding and work to tackle the stigma associated with mental health was recently linked to deaths by suicide falling to a six-year low.
“In part, the rise is likely to be down to greater awareness, this reduces stigma and in turn means that young people feel more able to open up about their mental health when concerned,” Strode said.
“We welcome this as a positive change, mental health problems are easier to treat the earlier they are identified and someone gets on the road to recovery.”
Charlie Smith’s Story:
I have been struggling with my mental health since around the age of 12. However, stigma surrounding mental health issues meant that I was too scared to tell anyone about how I was feeling. It wasn’t until I made a suicide attempt at the age of 20 that I finally accepted that I needed to get help, and I made an appointment to see my doctor. However, before speaking to my doctor, I made a second suicide attempt, and was referred to a psychiatrist. After a couple of appointments with the psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I am incredibly concerned about the mental health services within the NHS. Since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I have had a number of negative experiences. Firstly, after my diagnosis, I ended up in hospital for over a month. Despite admitting to doctors that I felt suicidal, I received very little support, having only a handful of appointments with medical professionals whilst I was there.
It got to a stage where I couldn’t take how I was feeling anymore, and freely walked out of the hospital. It was only due to a stranger finding me, and my mum getting involved, that I didn’t die by suicide. The whole time I was gone - which lasted nearly two hours - the hospital did not even notice I had gone. It was only through my mum calling them that they realised.
Since then, I’ve had non-stop bad experiences. I’ve seen a different psychiatrist almost every time I’ve had an appointment to assess my mental health - this means that I’ve spent most appointments repeating past information, instead of addressing current problems. At times when I’ve told mental health professionals I’m feeling suicidal, and regularly self-harming, I’ve had psychiatrist appointments moved back by months, with no reason given.
My doctor is limited with what he can do in terms of prescribing me medication, and putting me on waiting lists for other types of treatment. Therefore, when I’m feeling depressed, it is necessary that I have an assessment with a psychiatrist. However, the wait for these appointments can be up to nine months which, when you’re very unwell, is a ridiculous length of time to wait.
For me, the worst part of NHS treatment for mental health issues is how mental health crises are dealt with. For instance, recently I was feeling suicidal. It got to a stage where I had written a suicide note, and planned how I was going to take my own life. However, at last minute, I decided not to go through with it, and instead ring the NHS crisis team. This team is the emergency service that NHS staff have told me to ring if I’m having a mental health emergency.
Despite telling them I was on the verge of a suicidal attempt, they told that they were too busy to talk, and they would call back later. After five hours, and my parents ringing them several times to try and get someone to help me, they finally called back. Can you imagine an ambulance taking five hours to help a person who was close to death due to a ‘physical’ illness, because I certainly can’t. When I spoke to someone, I was sent to a mental health nurse the following day. When I saw him, he admitted to me that he needed to make the appointment quick, as he was due to see three other people at the same time as me.
Because my friends, and partner live nearby, and my mum often visits, he told me that there was nothing the mental health services could do, and it was the job of my friends, partner and mum to look after me. My friends, family and partner are all very supportive, and I’m lucky to have them - but what about if I didn’t have that support network? As bad as it sounds, I’m pretty sure I would be dead by now.
Being a young person affected by mental health issues is incredibly hard. In your early twenties, you’re supposed be having ‘the best years of your life’. You’re expected to be going out partying, travelling and preparing for your ‘dream’ career. However, my mental health difficulties have made all these things incredibly difficult.
For my first couple of years of university, I tried to go out all of the time. I believed that drinking excessively would help me forget about how I was feeling. It got to a stage where I was drinking most nights, but a lot of people thought it acceptable, and that I was just a ‘party animal’. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realise that alcohol worsens my mental health, and so I’ve almost cut it out completely.
I’ve found studying for my degree very difficult due to my mental illnesses. When I should have been in lectures, I’ve had to be in hospital appointments. When I should have been writing essays, I’ve spent my days in bed, so depressed I’ve been unable to move. Due to this, my three year course has taken me five and a half years to complete. I’ve had to go on temporary leave twice, and had to extend my final year by a few months. I’ve seen so many of my course mates, and friends, graduate whilst I’ve been nowhere near completion, and it’s been very hard.
Even though I’ve finally finished my course, I’m still in a bad way mentally. Whilst I feel I should be landing a job, I’ve instead spent the majority of the last few weeks in bed. It’s really difficult when you feel like everyone else is moving forward, and you don’t feel you aren’t - and never will be - at the same stage as them.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org