May 21, 2012


THE ABSENCE of one reliable adult for a young person to confide in is linked to an increased likelihood of self-harm and suicide and higher levels of depression, a report has found.

The My World Survey by youth mental health advocacy and support organisation Headstrong and the UCD School of Psychology is released today.

It surveyed some 6,000 school-going adolescents aged 12-19 and more than 8,000 young adults aged 17-25 who were in third-level, training courses, unemployed and employed.

The research looked at the “typical young person” and the distresses, problems and risk factors they encountered, report author Dr Barbara Dooley of Headstrong and the UCD School of Psychology said.

The report found that the presence of “one good adult” was central to the mental health of young people and was related to low levels of depression and anxiety.

Of adolescents with high support from an adult, just 6 per cent had severe anxiety, compared to 15 per cent of adolescents with low support from an adult.

“One good adult can be a protective factor in their life. It does not have to be a parent, but someone who is present and available that they can trust to express their feelings,” Dr Dooley said.

The effect of a “good adult” is shown in the case of self-harm. While 24 per cent of young adult women reported self-harming, this increased to 30 per cent if they had a low level of support from an adult. For young adult men, the level of suicide attempts was 6 per cent but this increased to 11 per cent if there was a low level of adult support.

“We may feel as adults that what they have to say may not seem important but adults need to encourage young people to talk,” Dr Dooley said.

The report identified issues with seeking support. Of the 7 per cent of young adults who had attempted suicide, just half had accessed help afterwards, the study found. Of these who had not got support after a suicide attempt, a third found it difficult or very difficult to get the support they needed.

This is a gap in services for young people as many are sent to adult facilities after 16 or 18, Dr Dooley siad.

“Adult services are not geared up very well to deal with young people. The gap is to try and have services relevant and accessible to young people in their communities” she said.

Money worries were also identified as a stress factor. Sixty per cent of young adults reported being often stressed or highly stressed about their financial situation. Those worried about finances were also more likely to drink excessively and take recreational drugs than peers without financial worries.