Feeling low in adolescence

WHO /Sergey Volkov

About half of all mental health problems in adulthood have their onset during or before adolescence. Improving resilience to mental illness among young people is very important, as poor mental health in adolescence is linked to unemployment, crime, increased rates of smoking, drug use, obesity and future mental ill health. Support and early interventions designed to promote well-being are key to building such resilience.

According to the latest Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study report, which includes 2013/2014 survey data from European adolescents, the percentage of young people reporting that they experience low mood more than once a week increases between the ages of 11 and 15, from 13% to 21%. The change is greater among girls than boys; by age 15, 29% of 15-year-old girls report feeling low more than once a week, compared with 13% of 15-year-old boys.*

Low mood can be precursor to depression

Low mood during adolescence comes in various forms and is often hard to identify. It can have a negative impact on day-to-day functioning and is associated with sadness, anxiety, worry, tiredness, low self-esteem, frustration or anger. Experiencing stress is one of the most common causes of low mood. Other triggers include feeling uncomfortable, relationship problems, peer pressure, school pressure, sleep difficulties, bullying, bereavement or hormonal changes.

Feeling low from time to time can be normal for adolescents. However, regular and prolonged periods of low mood can progress to depression and negatively impact long-term health, well-being and development.

Being in good emotional and physical health enables young people to deal with the challenges of adolescence and eases their transition into adulthood. Positive mental well-being in childhood is associated with increased social competence and good coping strategies that lead to more positive outcomes in adulthood. Addressing low feelings among young people and teaching them coping mechanisms that promote resilience is vital to protecting and promoting their mental health.

World Health Day: focus on depression

Depression is a major challenge to health in the WHO European Region and is the focus of World Health Day 2017. The theme “Depression: let’s talk” recognizes that depression is a treatable condition and seeks to address the fact that, despite this, about 50% of cases of major depression still go untreated. The high personal, social and economic costs and the large proportion of people who are not receiving any treatment – despite the availability of inexpensive and effective care – underscore the importance of overcoming this challenge.

*Young people taking part in the survey were asked how often they had experienced the following symptoms in the last 6 months: headache; stomach ache; feeling low, irritable or bad-tempered; feeling nervous; difficulties in getting to sleep; and feeling dizzy. Response options for each symptom ranged from “about every day” to “rarely or never”. Findings presented here show the proportions who reported feeling low more than once a week.