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Research Shows Increasing Levels Of Psychological Distress In Young Adults

Marking this week’s World Youth Mental Health Day 2023, My Mind News looks at recent worrying research on young people.

Youth Mental Health Day 2023

Yesterday (September 19th, 2023) marked Youth Mental Health Day 2203, with its theme of #Be Brave.

The day encourages understanding and discussion of mental health in young people. Each year, the day aims to get young people and those in support talking about improving mental health.

The event aims to provide hope and positivity and break mental health stigma.

Stem4 founded Youth Mental Health Day in the UK. Stem4 is a charity that supports young people to build positive mental health. Their mission is to raise awareness and highlight the importance of early intervention in young people’s mental health issues.

Concerning new research

According to a new survey, there has been a rise in the number of young adults in England who report feelings of severe distress. The study found that one in five 18 to 24-year-olds experienced severe distress at the end of 2022, compared to around one in seven in 2021.

The research suggested reports of severe distress rose across all age groups except those over 65. Experts have highlighted the pandemic, cost of living, and the NHS healthcare crisis as all contributing factors.

Researchers used a point-based score during telephone interviews to assess severe distress for the survey. People had not necessarily sought clinical help or a diagnosis at this point.

The research team, including academics from King’s College London and University College London (UCL), say the rise in reports needs to be urgently addressed.

Speaking about the latest research, Dr Leonie Brose, from King’s College, said,

“The last three years have seen an unprecedented series of events that can be seen to be contributing to a worsening in people’s mental health – a pandemic, a cost of living crisis, and a healthcare crisis. Our study shows that England’s wellbeing is steadily getting worse.”

Dr Brose continued,

“What’s required now is a strategy that puts equality, wellbeing, and sustainability at the heart of society’s response.”

More about the survey

The monthly telephone survey was conducted between April 2020 and December 2022 and involved some 51,800 adults in total.

Each month, a new group of young adults was asked how often in the last 30 days they had experienced several negative feelings such as worthlessness or hopelessness, feeling nervous, or feeling so depressed nothing could cheer them up.

Participants were asked to rate their feelings on a five-point scale, with higher scores placing them in the severe category.

Overall, the proportion of people reporting severe distress increased from 5.7% to 8.3%, with some groups affected more than others, including participants from low-income backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the proportion of young adults reporting any distress was about a third during this time – it dipped to 28% in May 2021 and rose to 32% by the end of that year.

Commenting on the study, Prof Sir Simon Wessely, at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neurosciences, King’s College London, said,

“The strength of this study is that it is large, population-based, and can look at trends over time. It suggests that what one might call normal feelings of distress, unhappiness, or anxiety that probably do not require or receive professional help have not changed much in recent years.”

Professor Wessely continued,

“But there has been a definite increase in more severe levels of distress, some of which may reach what we call “clinical” levels, in which some form of assessment, most likely in primary care, might be indicated.

Of particular concern is that this is seen most in young people, confirmed by other studies.”

Dr. Michael Bloomfield, at UCL, added that it was “particularly concerning” that the high levels of distress were “most marked during young adulthood,” adding that this was a critical period of development “and this may represent an elevated risk of subsequent mental health problems.”

He concluded by saying,

“A mentally healthy adult population is in everyone’s interests. Investing in improving mental health pays for itself many times over.

In summary

At My Mind News, we have reported on the issues facing young people’s mental health on several occasions. This issue is far from going away and seems to become increasingly worse over time.

As mentioned above, the theme of Youth Mental Health Day 2023 is #BeBrave. This could be building confidence in facing difficult situations, building social confidence, or learning to have the courage to fail by doing something new no matter the outcome; being brave can mean something different to everyone.



Multiple crises have affected young people within the last few years, from the pandemic to global warming to the cost of living crisis.

Stem4 found that four in ten young people say they have mental health difficulties, of which seven in ten say they are experiencing feelings of anxiety (71%) and low mood (67%).

Stem4 also stated that over the past year, nearly half of young people say they have experienced feelings of loneliness, isolation, and feeling left out either all or most of the time. These findings inspired this year’s theme to #BeBrave.

Stem4 hopes that by focusing on what it takes to be brave, they can give young people the courage and confidence they need to achieve their goals and ambitions and be the best version of themselves.

Did you mark Youth Mental Health Day in some way? Tell us more in the comments below.

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