A sympathetic ear
OVER FOUR in 10 young people in Ireland have said they felt their lives were “not worth living” at some point, according to research published this week in HEALTHplus, The Irish Times health supplement. The My World survey carried out by mental health organisation Headstrong and UCD’s school of psychology provides a valuable but disturbing insight into the experience of depression and other mental health issues among the Republic’s 17-25 year-olds. Of the 8,000 young adults studied, nearly 1,000 (14 per cent) were categorised as having either severe or very severe depression. Among those most depressed, there was an attempted suicide rate of 27 per cent. More than one in five of the total group had self-harmed, two-thirds doing so in the past year.
While these are shocking statistics, the researchers reached behind the frontline figures to pick out factors that appeared to predispose some young people to harm. These included sexual orientation and whether parents were still in a relationship together. Some one in four bisexual young people had at some point made an attempt to take their own life. Other significant clues emerged: the loss felt by young people when parents separated or died, and a struggle to “fit in”, especially where sexual orientation was an issue. But the My World survey shows that talking can have a life-saving effect – a truly remarkable finding in its simplicity. The attempted suicide rate among both young men and women who talk about their problems is 6 per cent, rising to 10 per cent for those who do not engage.
However a stigma surrounding psychological issues remains a barrier for many over seeking help. A quarter of young people talk to no one when they have a problem with depression, the study found. Significantly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) marked this week’s World Mental Health Day by calling for an end to the stigmatisation of depression and mental health issues and better access to treatment for all who need it.
While almost seven out of 10 young people say they have high levels of self-esteem, it seems a darker world may exist below the sunny disposition of some. Having at least one adult to whom young people can talk to is emerging as a key element in buttressing self-esteem and preventing self-harm. For adults the words of Tony Bates, founding director of Headstrong are worth acting on: “Even if you are the lollipop woman – that you look at them , give them a sense that you have noticed them on the planet, or say something kind . . . this is something every one of us can do.”