Teenage mental health problems persisted into adulthood for your generation

Overall rates of depression increased between adolescence and early adulthood for your generation, according to new findings from BCS70.

But the way depression manifested itself changed over time.

What we asked you

At ages 16 and 30, we asked you to complete a questionnaire about your general health. This included questions on your emotional wellbeing.

The research also took into account a range of information we collected over your childhood and early adult years, including your family background, childhood cognitive ability, teenage behavioural problems and self-esteem.

What the research found

Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education discovered that symptoms of depression increased by more than 8 per cent between ages 16 and 30. Women were more likely to have mental health problems than men at both ages, although men’s depressive symptoms increased at a higher rate between ages 16 and 30.

The researchers were surprised by their findings, as based on previous studies, they had predicted that mental health would improve as you got older.

As well as looking at the rates of mental ill-health, the researchers investigated how different aspects of mental health changed over time. Compared to adolescence, study members said, on average, that they were:

  • less able to face up to their problems
  • less likely to be reasonably happy
  • less likely to be able to concentrate
  • less capable of making decisions about things
  • more likely to lose sleep over worry.

In contrast, they were, on average:

  • less likely to feel unhappy and depressed
  • less likely to feel they were worthless
  • less likely to lose confidence in oneself
  • more likely to feel they could overcome their difficulties.

The findings showed that people who had behavioural problems and low self-esteem at age 16 were more likely to have poor mental health at both ages. Coming from a less advantaged background was also a risk factor for depressive symptoms at age 16, but not at age 30. The researchers didn’t find a link between cognitive ability or educational attainment and mental ill-health at ages 16 or 30.

Why this research is important

Mental ill-health is a growing issue in the UK. This report said that the increases in depressive symptoms between ages 16 and 30 indicated that experiencing psychological and behavioural problems in the teenage years could have long-term effects on mental health lasting into adulthood. It is important to understand when people might need more support, so that we can identify ways to provide better mental health services.

Find out more about this research

The full scientific paper was published in Journal of Psychiatric Research in March 2019.