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

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

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 PanelBase survey of 609 young people conducted in August 2019 as part of the report also found that:

  • Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the young adults surveyed said that they “often” or “always” feel pressure to meet other people’s expectations of them, and of these young people, 69% said it has a negative effect on their mental health.
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) said they “often or always” feel lonely
  • Just over half (53%) felt that professionals, like teachers and line managers, would be unable to respond to their emotions in ways that they would find helpful.
  • Just over half (59%) are confident that they know where they can go to find help if they are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing
  • Only around half (49%) are confident that they could actually get the help they need.

Lee Knifton, Director of MHF Scotland said: “Our findings really paint a worrying picture of young people living across Scotland today, with many reporting that they feel isolated or don’t know where they can turn to if they are experiencing problems. The findings really highlight the importance of both early intervention and prevention for young people’s mental health.

“Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, can happen at any age. But childhood and young adulthood represents such a crucial time for development. It’s vital we speak to young people to understand what challenges their mental health, as well as protects and promotes it, and introduce ways to help them reach their full potential. Our findings highlight there is so much more we need to do to make sure right support is available for young people living in Scotland today.”

Katie Cunningham and Charlie Meikle (both 16) are mental health ambassadors for younger pupils at the secondary school they attend, St Mungo’s in Falkirk and say they have experienced first-hand the pressures facing young people today, including social media, peer pressure and other people’s expectations of them.

Katie said: “It’s so important that young people can open up and express any concerns without it being a big taboo subject. To do this we have to start educating them about all aspects of their health and wellbeing from a young age. I’m so thankful that my school had the facilities and training to do this, I couldn’t imagine being in a school where mental health and wellbeing aren’t spoken about.”

Charlie said “As a boy I have an insight into the way we tend to not talk about any mental health struggles we have. From experience I can see that this only makes it worse and it can build up into a much bigger problem. I’m relatively open about my mental health which definitely helps, even just venting to friends or family can relieve a lot of stress.”

Based on the findings, the report recommends that we should:

  • 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 organisations.
  • Ensuring 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.
  • Enabling 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 to support good mental health.

Young people were questioned about the key factors affecting their mental health, from social support and relationships, to the environment they live in. A total of 86% of those surveyed said the general safety of the area they live in is important to their mental health. Meanwhile, 78% of young adults said that the physical appearance of the area they live in was important, as well as living close to blue and green spaces, such as rivers and parks.

Lee continued: “Children and young people’s early life experiences, the areas they live in, and the pressures they experience can all pose risks to good mental health. But having supportive families, friends and communities, the skills to understand, talk about and manage their feelings as well as adults to turn are all key things that can promote and protect them from childhood into young adulthood and beyond.”


Read the full report

Notes to Editors:

For more information and to arrange interviews contact Anne Hunter, Communications Manager on 0141 473 0959 or 07720054782.

  • 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 is the first of three reports, 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).
  • Cochrane Common Mental Disorders is part of Cochrane, an international not-for-profit organisation making up-to-date accurate information about the effects of healthcare readily available worldwide.  The report has been supported by a new partnership between the Mental Health Foundation and Cochrane Common Mental Disorders.
  • All calculations extrapolating the information presented in the press release were carried out by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland.
  • The survey was carried out by PanelBase. Total sample size was 609 Scottish young people. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish young people (16-25 year olds)