Hundreds of thousands of young people feel isolated, lonely and uncertain about who to turn to when experiencing mental health problems – major new report

Young adults aged 16 to 25 across the UK are feeling isolated, lonely and uncertain about who to turn to when experiencing mental health problems according to a major new research report carried out by the Mental Health Foundation.

The research – which was supported by the Cochrane Mental Disorders Group at York University – is hoped to be repeated every three years to get a measure of the impact of societal attempts to improve mental health.

The report - called State of a Generation  – examined the key areas where a mental health prevention approach could be effective. A YouGov online survey of 2,522 young people was conducted in August 2019 as part of the report.  It found that:

  • Only 54% of young adults feel they are able to speak about their emotions with others.
  • Around a quarter of young people say they “often” feel they lack companionship (25%), 25%  say they often feel left out and 27% feel isolated from others.
  • Just under 1 in 7 young people (14%) say they do not have a trusted adult to go to for advice and support if they were experiencing a problem.
  • Only 55% of young people are confident that they know where they can go to find help if they were concerned about their mental health and wellbeing, and only 34% are confident that they would actually get the help they need.
  • More than 1 in 5 young adults (21%) say where they live has a negative effect on their mental health.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Our research has painted a worrying picture of young people, with many reporting that they are feeling isolated or don’t know where they can turn to if they experience emotional problems.

“Large numbers try to manage in silence. With only half of young people saying they can speak about their emotions with others, our society needs to go a lot further in tackling issues like stigma and opening up channels for young people to talk about their problems.

“The focus of this research is how to prevent young people feeling this way and to support their mental health by addressing these issues.  Prevention is the best tool we have to alleviate these negative experiences by creating the conditions in which young people feel more connected, more able to talk about their problems, and to find help they can rely on.  By addressing these things, we can make big inroads into the issue.”

Jodie Beck from the Foundation’s Youth Advisory Panel, who was an adviser on the report,, said: “This report is so important because it brings young people’s specific experiences of mental health with concrete recommendations and solutions for policy-makers.  I wanted to be part of the panel because I want to make a difference. 

"I experienced poor mental health throughout my teenage years and never had the opportunity to use that lived experience to create change within the mental health support services that are available to young people.  I grew up in an estate in Yorkshire, and it’s really clear that a downturn in my mental health coincided with the depleting of community infrastructure such as the community centre on my estate closing down and green spaces not being maintained. There is a lot we can do to improve things for young people.”

Based on this research the report recommends the following actions:

  • Provide resources to parents and caregivers such as parenting programmes, education, employment and housing resources that help them to be consistent sources of support for their children.
  • Ensure that as part of their education, children are equipped with the skills they need to understand, talk about and manage challenging feelings.
  • Embed the teaching of skills that support good mental health into the curriculum and into youth work and other young-person focused services and organisations. Ensure that effective early support is available for young people’s mental health that considers young people’s views on what makes that support acceptable and accessible.
  • Enable community leaders to bridge the gap between communities and local government and make sure people have a choice and a voice in deciding what their area needs in order to support good mental health.

Read the full report

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Notes to editors:

For more information, or to request interviews, contact Fran Edwards from the Mental Health Foundation Press Office on 07786 437249, or on [email protected]

The report, “State of a generation: preventing mental health problems in children and young people”, has been published as part of the Foundation’s 70th anniversary.   This report is the first of three, each looking at a different stage in life, and the things that both challenge and support mental health at these stages. Researchers plan to repeat each survey every three years to measure the factors that influence young people’s mental health.   The next two reports will look at adults (autumn 2020) and people aged 55 and over (autumn 2021).

The report has been supported by a new partnership between the Mental Health Foundation and Cochrane Common Mental Disorders.  The partnership is helping the Foundation ask the right research questions, use the right methods to answer them, and get the right evidence to those who need it in a form they can use. 

Cochrane Common Mental Disorders is part of Cochrane, an international not-for-profit organisation dedicated to making up-to-date accurate information about the effects of healthcare readily available worldwide. 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2522 UK adults aged 16 to 25. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 29th August 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16 to 25).

 * All calculations have been carried out by the Mental Health Foundation.