Men­tal health is­sues among young on rise in world’s ‘hap­pi­est coun­tries’

Weekend Herald - - World - Rick Noack

In in­ter­na­tional rank­ings, there’s a club of usual sus­pects that more of­ten than not does re­ally well.

Fin­land and other Nordic na­tions of­ten come out on top, be it in qual­ity of life, ed­u­ca­tion or health­care. On the other side of the world, New Zealand and Aus­tralia ap­pear to have be­come mem­bers of that ex­clu­sive club, too, while the United States con­sis­tently misses out.

When the United Na­tions re­leased its an­nual World Hap­pi­ness Re­port last year, these usual sus­pects made it to the top 10 once again. But more sur­pris­ingly, they also led in an­other, less favourable re­cent statis­tic: The ra­tio of cit­i­zens af­fected by men­tal health dis­or­ders. A sep­a­rate 2017 study by the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion con­cluded that cit­i­zens of Aus­tralia, be­sides Amer­i­cans, Ukraini­ans and Es­to­ni­ans, were more likely to de­velop de­pres­sion than peo­ple liv­ing any­where else in the world. Other strongly af­fected na­tions in­cluded New Zealand and Nordic states such as Fin­land and Den­mark.

Stud­ies with a slightly dif­fer­ent re­search fo­cus or method­ol­ogy have ob­served sim­i­larly se­vere or even worse men­tal health is­sues among chil­dren grow­ing up in poorer coun­tries such as In­dia, and it is likely that men­tal health is­sues are sub­stan­tially un­der­re­ported in many de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

But the men­tal health cri­sis that in­creas­ingly ap­pears to af­fect young peo­ple from wealth­ier coun­tries has baf­fled sci­en­tists more than other find­ings that could be ex­plained by in­equal­ity or poverty. Aus­tralia be­came the lat­est coun­try to an­nounce new ef­forts to com­bat the grow­ing prob­lem this week, promis­ing on Wednesday to fund men­tal health pro­grammes for young peo­ple with an ad­di­tional A$34 mil­lion ($36m).

“I want our young peo­ple to know they are not alone on their jour­ney,” Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt said, ac­cord­ing to a govern­ment news re­lease.

Re­searchers ac­knowl­edge that the rea­sons young peo­ple are

I want our young peo­ple to know they are not alone on their jour­ney. Greg Hunt

in­creas­ingly anx­ious or de­pressed are still not fully un­der­stood, but re­cent stud­ies have cited the use of so­cial me­dia and per­cep­tions of not be­ing able to ful­fil un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of em­ploy­ers, friends or part­ners.

Num­bers col­lected by the Mis­sion Aus­tralia char­ity from two years ago al­ready showed a sharp in­crease in the num­ber of young Aus­tralians suffering from men­tal ill­ness, with about 23 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds im­pacted. More re­cently, a govern­ment study sim­i­larly con­cluded that about 25 per cent of all

16- to 24-year-old Aus­tralians are be­lieved to strug­gle with men­tal ill­nesses ev­ery year.

“We are talk­ing about an alarm­ing num­ber of young peo­ple fac­ing se­ri­ous men­tal ill­ness, of­ten in si­lence and with­out ac­cess­ing the help they need,” said Cather­ine Yeo­mans, Mis­sion Aus­tralia’s then-CEO.

The same trend was re­ported in Swe­den, where young cit­i­zens were

20 per cent more likely to be pre­scribed anx­i­ety med­i­ca­tions in

2013 than they were in 2006. Mean­while, Fin­nish re­searchers have ob­served an even more se­vere jump in the years since then. In Hel­sinki alone, the num­ber of chil­dren be­ing treated for men­tal health is­sues more than dou­bled within a decade. In Swe­den and in some of the other Nordic coun­tries, re­searchers con­cluded that mount­ing men­tal health prob­lems among younger peo­ple are re­sult­ing in a widen­ing life sat­is­fac­tion gap be­tween gen­er­a­tions.

“Peo­ple in the Nordic re­gion are gen­er­ally hap­pier than peo­ple in other re­gions of the world, but de­spite this there are in fact also peo­ple in Den­mark, Fin­land, Ice­land, Nor­way and Swe­den who re­port to be strug­gling or even suffering,” wrote the au­thors of the re­port In the Shadow of Hap­pi­ness, which was re­leased by the Nordic Coun­cil of Min­is­ters last year. While 12.3 per cent of all Nordic re­gion res­i­dents said they were strug­gling or suffering, that ra­tio was more than one per­cent­age point higher among 18- to 23-yearolds.

Other re­searchers cau­tion that grow­ing men­tal health is­sues among young peo­ple might not be nec­es­sar­ily lim­ited to res­i­dents of the na­tions that per­form the best in global sta­tis­tics, such as Aus­tralia and Fin­land. They say that re­spon­dents in coun­tries such as Aus­tralia, Swe­den and Fin­land — where ac­cess to health care is rel­a­tively easy — may be sim­ply more likely to self-re­port signs of men­tal ill­ness, skew­ing the com­pa­ra­bil­ity of those rank­ings and per­haps hid­ing a more global trend.

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