The Mental Health of Young People Is Deteriorating. Why?

Increasingly more adolescents are requesting the specialized assistance of medical and psychological professionals. What could be behind this increase?
The Mental Health of Young People Is Deteriorating. Why?
Gorka Jiménez Pajares

Written and verified by the psychologist Gorka Jiménez Pajares.

Last update: 14 March, 2023

Today, increasingly more young people are being plagued by mental health problems. Indeed, depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and addictions have increased in those who are the future of our society.

The suffering of these young people also involves the suffering of their families and the people around them. Unsurprisingly, the increase in mental health issues in young people has alarmed health professionals. They’ve suggested some of the possible causes that could be behind this increase.

“Despite the increase in the incidence and prevalence rates of disorders in childhood and adolescence, few investigations have been carried out to date.”

-Esperanza Navarro Pardo-

teen girl suffering
According to the WHO, 30% percent of young people have a mental health disorder.

The mental health of young people, under examination

It’s a proven fact that the mental health of young people is progressively deteriorating. This is indicated by its prevalence rates (Pardo, 2012).

We use prevalence as a term to quantify the number of cases in a specific period of time. The WHO has warned that up to 30 percent of young people are currently suffering from a mental disorder.

The disorders that occur most frequently in young people are conduct disorders (especially in boys) and emotional disorders (in girls). Research conducted by Esperanza Navarro, from the University of Valencia (Spain) with 470 young people claimed that:

  • 21 percent of them were potentially suffering from a conduct disorder.
  • 17 percent were suffering from an anxiety disorder.
  • 11 percent had ADHD.
  • Four percent were suffering from an eating disorder.

Furthermore, Vallejo Pareja (2022) claims that there’s also been an increase in the number of cases of hyperactive behaviors, as well as disruptive behaviors. The aforementioned data tends to pose the question of why the mental health of young people is deteriorating.

“Several works carried out in different countries coincide in indicating a global index of psychopathology in young people that revolves around 20”.

-María del Carmen Bragado Álvarez-

Is life harder than before? Or is there a methodological problem?

If we take a look at the recent past, perhaps we can understand the causes of this increase. After all, as the saying goes, “the chickens always come home to roost”. Therefore, we must stop and reflect on the latest events that have impacted our society, such as:

  • The Great Recession. It hit the whole world and was experienced most intensely between 2008 and 2013. In fact, society has never really recovered from its consequences. Youth unemployment was one such repercussion.
  • The 2020 pandemic. Unfortunately, just when everything was pointing to the fact that the Great Recession was behind us and society seemed to be entering a new ‘golden period’, the SARS-CoV-2 virus brought everything to a standstill.

Adolescence is a deeply social stage of life. Through interaction with other people, young adults build their identities via comparisons. However, during the pandemic, they had to sacrifice social contact. This has had a substantial impact on their ‘normal or normative development’.

Science has corroborated this fact. Indeed, research has found that, during confinement, adolescents felt lonelier. Consequently, they turned more frequently to digital alternatives to socialize. This fact has been related to an increase in cases of depression and suicide.

teenager with mobile
According to Miguel Ángel Vallejo Pareja, there have been changes and alterations in the emotional well-being of children and adolescents, as a consequence of the pandemic.

Greater awareness

We should also point out that experts are currently conducting higher-quality research. For example, studies on prevalence were previously scarce, but are currently abundant. This could mean that incidence figures, previously incomplete (and therefore lower), have now increased as a consequence of a greater volume of research. Among the advances are the following (Vallejo, 2022):

  • A greater number of randomized clinical trials with high methodological rigor on the frequency of various clinical entities in childhood and adolescence.
  • Greater control, rigor, and robustness in the results obtained.
  • Better identification of the elements that have an impact on the etiology of child and adolescent disorders. In effect, an improvement in diagnosis.
  • An increase in the number of diagnostic labels. In fact, in 1950, experts had identified a total of 106 disorders. Currently, they can diagnose up to 216 (Echeburúa, 2014).

Health problems are deeply rooted in the contextual situation. They arise and interact with factors in the individual’s environment. For instance, work, family relationships (and the well-being or discomfort of their parents), as well as school or university.

On the other hand, it should be taken into account that the advances in terms of better quality in research and diagnosis could also contribute to the reported deterioration in the mental health of young people today.

“Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Don’t sell out.”

-Christopher Reeve-

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • De la Barra, F. (2009). Epidemiología de trastornos psiquiátricos en niños y adolescentes: Estudios de prevalencia. Revista chilena de neuro-psiquiatría, 47(4), 303-314.
  • Sandoval, K. D., Morote-Jayacc, P. V., Moreno-Molina, M., & Taype-Rondan, A. (2021). Depresión, estrés y ansiedad en estudiantes de Medicina humana de Ayacucho (Perú) en el contexto de la pandemia por COVID-19. Revista Colombiana de psiquiatria.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.