There’s just huge anxiety: ontological security, moral panic, and the decline in young people’s mental health and well-being in the UK
This study aims to critically discuss factors associated with a recent dramatic rise in recorded mental health issues amongst UK youth. It draws from interviews and focus groups undertaken with young people, parents and professionals. We offer valuable new insights into significant issues affecting young people’s mental health and well-being that are grounded in their lived experiences and in those who care for and work with them. By means of a thematic analysis of the data, we identified an increase in anxiety related to: future orientation, social media use, education, austerity, and normalization of mental distress and self-harm. We apply the notion of ontological security in our interpretation of how socio-cultural and political changes have increased anxiety amongst young people and consequent uncertainty about the self, the world and the future, leading to mental health problems. There are also problems conceptualizing and managing adolescent mental health, including increased awareness, increased acceptance of these problems, and stigmatisation. We relate this to the tendency for moral panic and widespread dissemination of problems in a risk society. In our conclusion, we highlight implications for future research, policy and practice.
Mental Health Foundation. Mental Health Statistics: Children and Young People. Available from: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-children-and-young-people Accessed: August 8, 2018.
The Children’s Society. The Good Childhood Report; 2018. Available from: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/good_childhood_summary_2018.pdf Accessed: November 4, 2018.
Earle J. Children and Young People’s Mental Health. London: British Medical Association; 2016.
Patalay P, Fitzsimons E. Mental ill-health among children of the new century: trends across childhood with a focus on age 14. London: Centre for Longitudinal Studies; 2017.
Frith E. Centre Forum Commission on Children and Young People’s Mental Health: State of the Nation. London: Centre Forum; 2016.
NHS. Mental Health of Children and Young People in England; 2017. Available from: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2017/2017#resources Accessed: January 29, 2019.
Bacino L. Shock figures show extent of self-harm in English teenagers; 2014. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/may/21/shock-figures-self-harm-england-teenagers Accessed: May 21, 2014.
Tait P. Causes of growing mental health problems sit largely within schools; 2015. Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/12025711/Schools-largely-to-blame-for-rising-mental-health-issues.html Accessed: December 2, 2015.
Campbell D. NHS figures show shocking rise in self-harm among young; 2016. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/23/nhs-figures-show-shocking-rise-self-harm-young-people Accessed: October 23, 2016.
Bedell G. Teenage mental-health crisis: rates of depression have soared in past 25 years; 2016. Available from: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/teenage-mental-health-crisis-rates-of-depression-have-soared-in-the-past-25-years-a6894676.html Accessed: February 27, 2016.
Topping A. Two-thirds of children referred for mental healthcare in England not treated; 2017. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/27/mental-healthcare-england-children-referred-gp-not-treated Accessed: November 27, 2017.
Sanghani R. Why are so many of Britain’s teen girls struggling with mental health problems?; 2017. Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/body/why-are-so-many-of-britains-teen-girls-struggling-with-mental-he/ Accessed: March 16, 2017.
Lepper J. Number of young people receiving mental health support rises to 240,000; 2017. Available from: https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2003685/number-of-young-people-receiving-mental-health-support-rises-to-240-000 Accessed: May 24, 2017.
Hedderwick T. Crisis in mental health care for young people; 2017. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/24/crisis-in-mental-health-care-for-young-people Accessed: October 24, 2017.
McInnis K, Barrett G. Girls admitted to hospital for self-harming nearly doubles; 2018. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45082767 Accessed: August 6, 2018.
Silverman R. The real reason today’s children are so unhappy; 2018. Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/parenting/real-reason-todays-children-unhappy/ Accessed: February 8, 2018.
Wakefield J. Is social media causing childhood depression?; 2018. Available from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42705881. Accessed: February 10, 2018.
Morgan C, Webb R, Carr M, et al. Incidence, clinical management, and mortality risk following self harm among children and adolescents: cohort study in primary care. Brit Med J 2017;359:j4351. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j4351
Arnett JJ. Emerging adulthood: a theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. Am Psychol 2000;55:469-80. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469
Millard C. A history of self-harm in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave Mcmillan; 2015. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137529626
Cohen S. Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the mods and rockers. London: MacGibbon and Kee Ltd; 1972.
Royal Society for Public Health. Status of Mind: Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Well-being. Available from: https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html. Accessed: 2018.
Giddens A. Modernity and self-identity: self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press; 1991.
Whitley R. Postmodernity and Mental Health. Harvard Rev Psychiat 2008;16:352-64. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10673220802564186
Chase E. Security and subjective well-being: the experiences of unaccompanied young people seeking asylum in the UK. Sociol Health Illn 2013;35:858-72. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9566.2012.01541.x
Flick U. An introduction to qualitative research. 5th ed. London: Sage; 2014.
Braun V, Clarke V. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qual Res Psychol 2006;3:77-101. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Liamputtong P, Ezzy D. Qualitative research methods. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005.
Castells M. The rise of the network society. Oxford: Blackwell; 1996.
Eckersley R. A new narrative of young people’s health and well-being. J Youth Stud 2011;14:627-38. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2011.565043
Sweeting H, West P, Young R, Derr, G. Can we explain increases in young people’s psychological distress over time? Soc Sci Med 2010;71:1819-30. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.08.012
Malla A, Shah J, Iyet S, et al. Youth mental health should be a top priority for health care in Canada. Can J Psychiatry 2018;63:216-22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743718758968
Kelly E, Lee T, Sibieta L, Waters T. Public spending on children in England: 2000-2020. London: Institute for Fiscal Studies; 2018.
Cummins I. The impact of austerity on mental health services provision: a UK perspective. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2018;15:E1145. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15061145
Kenway J, Bullen E. Education in the age of uncertainty: an eagle’s eye-view. Compare 2000;30:265-73. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/713657463
Torrance H. Assessment of the national curriculum in England. In: Kellaghan T, Stufflebeam DL, eds. International handbook of educational evaluation. Vol 2. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers; 2003. pp 905-928. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-0309-4_51
Marsh I. Suicide: the hidden cost of the financial crisis; 2014. Available from: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/08/suicide-hidden-cost-financial-crisis Accessed: August 5, 2014.
Mills C. ‘Dead people don’t claim’: a psychopolitical autopsy of UK austerity suicides. Crit Soc Policy 2018;38:302-22. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0261018317726263
McGrath L, Griffin V, Mundy E. The psychological impact of austerity: a briefing paper. Educ Psychol Res Practice 2016;2:46-7.
Hall GS. Adolescence: its psychology and its relations to physiology, anthropology, sociology, sex, crime, religion, and education. Vols. I & II. New York: D. Appleton & Co;1904. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/10618-000
Walgrave M, Ponnet K, Vanderhoven E, et al., eds. Youth 2.0: social media and adolescence. London: Springer; 2016. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-27893-3
Goffman E. The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books; 1959.
Boyd D. It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. London: Yale University Press; 2014.
Ogburn WF. Social change. New York: BW. Huebsch Inc; 1922.
Suler J. The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychol Behav 2004;7:321-6. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/1094931041291295
Suler J. Identity management in cyberspace. J Appl Psychoanal Stud 2002;4:455-9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1020392231924
Cassidy W, Faucher C, Jackson M. Cyberbullying among youth: a comprehensive review of current research and its implications and application to policy and practice. School Psychol Int 2013;34:575-612. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0143034313479697
Gonzales AL, Hancock JT. Mirror, mirror on my Facebook wall: effects of exposure to Facebook on self-esteem. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 2011;14:79-83. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2009.0411
Raymer K. The effects of social media sites on self-esteem. Thesis Diss., Rowan University; Theses and Dissertations 2015;284. Available from: http://rdw.rowan.edu/etd/284
Muller KW, Dreier M, Beutel ME, et al. A hidden type of internet addiction? Intense and addictive use of social networking sites in adolescents. Comput Hum Behav 2016;55:172-7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.09.007
Blachnio A, Przepiorka A, Pantic I. Association between Facebook addiction, self-esteem and life satisfaction: a cross-sectional study. Comput Hum Behav 2016;55:701-5. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.10.026
Verduyn P, Lee DS, Park J, et al. Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence. J Exp Psychol Gen 2015;144:480-8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000057
Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, et al. Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PLoS One 2013;8:1-6. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069841
Best P, Manktelow R, Taylor B. Online communication, social media and adolescent well-being: a systematic narrative review. Child Youth Serv Rev 2014;41:27-36. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2014.03.001
Wood MA, Bukowski WM, Lis E. The digital self: How social media serves as a setting that shapes youth’s emotional experiences. Adolesc Res Rev 2016;1:163-73. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-015-0014-8
Feinstein RA, Hershenberg R, Bhatia V, et al. Negative social comparison on Facebook and depressive symptoms: rumination as a mechanism. Psychol Pop Media Cult 2013;2:161-70. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/a0033111
Chen W, Lee K. Sharing, liking, commenting, and distressed? The pathway between Facebook interaction and psychological distress. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 2013;16:728-34. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2012.0272
Tandoc EC Jr, Ferrucci P, Duffy M. Facebook use, envy, and depression among college students: is Facebook depressing? Comput Human Behav 2015;43:139-46. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.10.053
Valkenburg P, Peter J. Social consequences of the internet for adolescents: a decade of research. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2009;18:1-4. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01595.x
Chou HT, Edge N. ‘They are happier and having better lives than I am’: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw 2012;15:117-21. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2011.0324
Jones RA. Emile Durkheim: an introduction to four major works. Beverley Hills, CA: Sage Publications; 1986.
Laing RD. The divided self: an existential study in sanity and madness. London: Pelican Press; 1965.
Beck U. The risk society: towards a new modernity. London: Sage Publications; 1992.
Wimmer J, Quandt T. Living in the risk society. Journalism Stud 2006;7:336-47. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14616700600645461
- Abstract views: 3263
- PDF: 1600
Copyright (c) 2019 The Author(s)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.