Skip to main content

New study shows rise in emotional problems in young people across generations

6 June 2023

Small group of teens walking to a forest

The paper’s findings provide evidence that the increase in emotional problems is especially pronounced for adolescent girls.

A new Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health study led by Dr Jessica Armitage has revealed a concerning trend in the mental well-being of young people. The research, which examined generational changes in emotional problems, found that children born at the turn of the millennium experienced a significantly sharper and more persistent increase in emotional difficulties compared to those born a decade earlier. The findings emphasize the need for targeted interventions and support, especially for female adolescents.

It is known that emotional problems such as depression and anxiety highly affect young people, often leading to adverse outcomes in adulthood. Previous studies have also shown an overall rise in the prevalence of emotional disorders and symptoms across high-income countries. However, this study sought to answer a crucial question: Have the developmental trajectories of emotional problems changed across generations?

Utilizing longitudinal data from two population cohorts, namely Children of the 90s (also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children - ALSPAC) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), researchers examined the developmental trajectories of parent-rated emotional problems in the UK.

“The most significant finding of the study was that children born at the start of the millennium faced more pronounced emotional challenges, with earlier onset and longer-lasting effects, compared to their counterparts born a decade earlier. Furthermore, adolescent girls exhibited particularly high rates of emotional difficulties.”
Jessica Armitage Research Associate, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

The implications of this research are far-reaching. Policymakers, educators, and healthcare professionals should prioritize initiatives aimed at enhancing youth mental health, with a particular emphasis on supporting and empowering adolescent girls.

“By recognising and addressing the unique challenges faced by young people, we can work towards fostering a healthier and happier generation.”
Jessica Armitage Research Associate, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

While the study sheds light on the concerning rise in emotional problems among today's youth, it also highlights the need for further investigation. Understanding the underlying reasons behind the increase in emotional difficulties among young people remains a top priority. Additionally, continuous monitoring of mental health trends is vital to inform targeted interventions and measure the effectiveness of ongoing efforts.

In summary, this new study has revealed a surge in emotional problems among young people, indicating a pressing need for increased support and intervention strategies. By harnessing the power of longitudinal data from the Children of the 90s project, researchers have highlighted the generational changes in emotional well-being, helping to better create evidence-based solutions to tackle this pressing public health issue.

To read the full paper, visit: Cross-cohort change in parent-reported emotional problem trajectories across childhood and adolescence in the UK - The Lancet Psychiatry

Share this story