The youth mental health crisis is even more severe than we thought. Shocking new research by Wysa reveals that more than 8 in 10 teenagers are experiencing mental health worries, with 1 in 3 needing professional support.
But the solutions we’re offering them are falling short. Half the young people can’t access the support they need, with many feeling too ashamed or uncomfortable talking to teachers or mental health teams at school. As a result, a generation of teenagers is silently suffering, with nowhere to turn – so they’re going to TikTok.
When faced with challenges, half of the young people would speak to parents (53%), and a similar number to friends (46%). But ahead of CAMHS services (25%) and teachers (21%) is TikTok (33%). Teenagers are using their phones and social media to access mental health support, which may not be accurate or regulated.
When asked how they would feel about a confidential app with tailored support and if that app and chatbot would be a preference over other people, the app is the preference over teachers, doctors and siblings. An astonishing 8 in 10 (78%) would choose an app over their teachers, and three-fifths (60%) would rather get help from an app than their doctor.
This points to a need for a clinically validated and backed digital solution that meets young people where they are when they want it.
Scale of severity
New figures from the leading mental health app Wysa show that the children and young people’s UK mental health crisis are worse than estimated.
Over 1 in 3 13-17-year-olds surveyed indicate symptoms of depression or anxiety that warrant investigation – and 82% self-report a range of mental health issues such as anxiety (49% – rising to 63% of females), trouble sleeping (21%), dislike of image (26%), fear of socialising (29%) and other concerns. Half are worried about their parents’ money, showing the news agenda’s influence and the living crisis’s cost on teenagers’ mental health.
Official figures point to 1 in 6, but this data suggests something more widespread. It suggests that 1.3 million 13-17-year-olds have symptoms of anxiety and depression that could warrant further investigation.
But most worryingly, young people aren’t getting the help they need. Over half (55%) who scored 3 or more on GAD2 and PHQ2 screening questionnaires for anxiety and depression haven’t contacted a relevant professional.
Stigma and lack of knowledge
Their reason is an embarrassment (43%) or that they don’t recognise they need help (41%) – stigma still prevails, and education about what are normal needs to happen. We need to normalise talking about mental health and provide resources and education about what to do when facing difficulties.
Although there has been extra focus and investment into supporting people to understand and identify signs of mental ill health, it’s not landing with young people.
And 1 in 6 (17%) don’t know who to speak to, which rises to a quarter (23%) of 13-15 year-olds. Having a mental health nurse in school or posters up about therapists only works if people are shown how to access them and guided to getting support.
Lack of accessibility
Part of the reason for this is accessibility when young people need help. Nearly half (49%) experience mental health worries before school, and a quarter (27%) just before bed – yet most current solutions are available during school hours. A third (35%) say that the support available is not at the right times for them.
Emma Taylor, CAMHS lead at Wysa, says: “This research clearly shows us that support isn’t available right when our young people want it. Resources mean that young people who present for clinical support have limited and time-bound treatment at specific times of the day – which may not be when they most need help. An always-on, flexible solution that helps them at the moment of need is necessary.”
Wysa managing director Ross O’Brien says: “Wysa makes it easier for young people to access the vital mental health support they need when they need it. Young people shouldn’t wait until they are unwell to receive treatment or support.”
“So whether they need one-to-one therapeutic support, wellbeing resources, immediate and ongoing support and information, or on-demand exercises to help their mental health – Wysa will be with them every step of the way.”
Koda, 17, is a student who uses Wysa, and he says: “I found out about Wysa through a friend when I was feeling very depressed and suicidal. I truly believed that there was no hope for me. I started to use the app, and having 24/7 support, no matter where I was or what time it was, has been the best thing.”
“I can pull out my phone and talk through any problems, like a panic attack. Whenever I finish a session with Wysa, I feel more relaxed and ready for the day. I like knowing I won’t be judged or feel burdened when talking to Wysa.”
“It’s a safe outlet for me when life gets too tough. There is always something available to help me, which has done a great job of getting me out of my depression. I’ve started to be more active and productive, and my overall mood has improved.”