Four in 10 young adults felt life not of value, study says
MORE THAN four in 10 young people surveyed in Ireland have said they felt their lives were “not worth living” at some point, a new study has found.
Talking to 8,000 young adults aged 17-25, the My World survey by youth mental health organisation Headstrong and University College Dublin’s School of Psychology provides a snapshot of the mental health of Ireland’s young.
In the questionnaire-based study of young adults – a representative group comprised of third-level students, those employed and unemployed and those on training courses – 43 per cent said they had thought their life was not worth living at some point.
The majority of these, 2,000 young people, said they had felt that way in the past year.
More than one in five (21 per cent) said they had self-harmed without wanting to take their own life. Two-thirds did so in the past year. Some 500 young people interviewed had made a suicide attempt, 180 of them in the past year.
“For us, the key thing is that there are a lot of young people engaging in very serious behaviours that may be going unnoticed [by] their families or professionals,” said UCD psychology lecturer and Headstrong’s director of research, Barbara Dooley.
Dr Dooley authored the study with UCD research fellow Amanda Fitzgerald.
The study also highlights the link between depression, self-harm and suicide. The data shows that, of those young people classed as having severe depression, 47 per cent had self-harmed, while 27 per cent had made a suicide attempt.
“Despite this being a young sample with an average age of just 20, the data found that nearly 1,000 young people, (14 per cent), fell into the category of either severe or very severe depression,” said Dr Dooley.
“Given the link to suicidal behaviour, it is imperative that there is greater awareness within the community and among parents to be mindful of the emotional distress of young people.”
Having been bullied was also linked to an increased risk of self-harm and suicide attempt, the survey found.
While 21 per cent of young people reported that they had self-harmed at one point, this rose to 26 per cent for those who had been bullied, contrasting with 14 per cent who reported never having been bullied.
Rates of attempted suicide were also higher in those who reported having been bullied (9 per cent), compared with those who had never been bullied (5 per cent).
The survey found that more than half of those young adults who attempted suicide did not access support. Among those who received help, 37 per cent said they found it either “difficult” or “very difficult” to get the help they needed.
Speaking about the survey, director of Headstrong Tony Bates said a significant finding was that talking and the presence of “one good adult” could be a protective effect for young people.
“Just one good adult who notices them, talks to them, someone who can see through their perhaps antisocial behaviour and see that they are hurting, someone who says ‘I believe in you and you can come through this’, that can make a huge difference,” he said.
SURVEY FINDINGS: TALK HELPS
THE MY World survey clearly demonstrates the positive role that talking plays in a young person’s life. While the attempted suicide rate among young people who talk about their problems is 6 per cent, it rises to 10 per cent amongst those who don’t.
Talking has a similarly protective effect against self-harming. Those who talk about their problems report rates of self-harm of 19 per cent, rising to 26 per cent for those who don’t.
The survey found that one quarter of young people “talk to no one” when they have a problem with depression. Young people who reported self-harm were much more likely to talk to no one if they had problems with depression and said they were “very unlikely” to turn to their families.
“It may point to the stigma associated with depression and young people’s unwillingness to openly discuss their feelings,” said study co-author Barbara Dooley. She said the findings underscored the message of the National Office for Suicide Prevention that “talking is a sign of strength”.
Online and phone-in groups that can provide help and support include: Pieta House – Centre for the Prevention of Suicide or Self-Harm ( pieta.ie) 01-6010000; Samaritans ( samaritans.org) 1850-609090; Teen-Line Ireland ( teenline.ie) 1800-833634; Aware – Helping to Defeat Depression ( aware.ie) 1890-303302