Surviving the 'best years of your life'
Headstrong’s new large-scale study with UCD has found startling levels of depression, self-harm and attempted suicide among young people, writes JOANNE HUNT
OVER FOUR in 10 young people in Ireland have said they felt their lives were “not worth living” at some point, a new study has found. The majority of these 17-25 year olds said they had felt that way in the past year.
The My World survey by youth mental health organisation Headstrong and UCD’s School of Psychology provides a startling insight into the minds of Ireland’s young.
Talking to 8,000 young adults whose average age was just 20, it found that more than one in five of them had self-harmed, two-thirds doing so in the past year.
Some 500 of the young people interviewed had made a suicide attempt, 180 of them in the past year.
The findings show that the experience of depression among our young, their levels of self-esteem, whether their parents are still together and their sexual orientation all prove significant factors in their likelihood to harm themselves or attempt suicide.
“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 Barbara Dooley.
The UCD psychology lecturer and Headstrong’s director of research wrote the study with UCD research fellow, Amanda Fitzgerald.
One of their strongest findings is the link between increased levels of depression and the likelihood of self-harm or attempted suicide.
To categorise the severity of their depression, young people were asked to respond to an internationally recognised set of statements like
“I couldn’t seem to experience any positive feelings at all” or “I was worried about situations in which I might panic,” explained Dr Dooley.
“If you are at a normal level of depression, you have a 14 per cent rate of self-harm. That rises to 47 per cent among young people who have very severe depression,” she said.
Nearly 1,000 (14 per cent) of those surveyed fell into the categories of “severe” or “very severe” depression. Among those who were most depressed, there was an attempted suicide rate of 27 per cent.
Describing the findings, director of Headstrong Tony Bates said: “We look at young people and their lives may appear to be buzzing along but what we are seeing is that in reality for many, this is not the case.
“Many of our young are experiencing . . . periods of despair, which they may come through, but it’s significant that things can feel so bad that they think their life is not worth living.”
The My World survey shows that simply talking can have a life-saving effect. 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 don’t talk.
A quarter of young people talk to no one when they have a problem with depression, the study found.
“I think stigma is definitely an issue here,” said Dr Dooley. “But I also think sometimes young people don’t have the language to articulate what they are feeling.”
Measured on their responses as to whether they felt they had good qualities, had much to be proud of, or were a person of worth, levels of self-esteem too were greatly linked both to self-harm and past suicide attempts.