Young people need one trustworthy adult to confide in, study showsTuesday, May 22nd, 2012
Young people need the presence of One Good Adult if they are to avoid significant mental health problems, according to a comprehensive study of Irish people aged between 12-24 published last week.
The study, a joint project of mental health charity Headstrong and UCD's School of Psychology, looked at a sample 14,500 young people. It asked them to what extent they have a special adult in their lives who is there when they are in need. It said that the One Good Adult could be a parent, grandparent, teacher or sports coach.
Seventy-one per cent in the adolescent sample (12-19 years), reported high or very high support from One Good Adult while 16 per cent reported low or very low support. Similarly, in the young adult sample (17-25 years) 72 per cent reported high or very high support and 18 per cent low or very low support.
According to the survey, having One Good Adult was highly related to a range of protective factors: perceived support from family, perceived support from friends, life satisfaction, self-esteem, seeking social support for problems, optimism, and using planning strategies to cope with problems.
Young people, who report a very high level of support from a trusted adult when in need, perceive a significantly above average level of support from their family and friends, the study said. “Therefore, the presence of One Good Adult is associated with a young person’s connectedness with family and friends,” the study reported.
Having high levels of support from One Good Adult is also associated with greater degrees of life satisfaction, which in turn is consistently related to positive well-being, the study found. Young people who perceived very low support from a special adult when in need had significantly higher levels of depression compared to the typical young person in the sample.
The data showed that a young person with very low access to support had depression levels that were not in the normal range, whereas depression levels for a young person with high support from a good adult are well within the normal range. The study showed the same pattern for anxiety. These factors, the authors said were key indicators of psychological distress.
The absence of One Good Adult was linked to an increased likelihood of self-harm. For males, the overall rate of self-harm was 17 per cent, but it was 24 per cent for those who reported low support from One Good Adult. For females, the rates were 24 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
A high percentage (43 per cent) of young adults have thought that their life was not worth living at some point. For the male sample, 40 per cent had thought this at some point, but when the level of support from One Good Adult was very low, this figure rises to 57 per cent. For females, the rates were 44 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.
Overall, the study showed that almost one in three young people report having experienced mental health problems.
According to the findings, nearly half (48 per cent) of all sixth year students in secondary school engaged in abnormally high levels of drinking, with six per cent rated as, “potentially alcohol dependent,” as measured by World Health Organisation standards.
Over 60 per cent of those aged 17-25 reported abnormally high levels of alcohol use on this same measure, the study found. Forty one per cent of this age group fell into the problem drinking range with 10 per cent classified as being engaged in harmful and hazardous drinking. A further 10 per cent were classified as having a potential alcohol dependence.
by Tom O'Gorman