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UK: Younger generation burdened with anxiety and loneliness

  • Over a quarter of 18-24 year olds suffered anxiety in last year
  • 48% of 18-24 year olds say they often feel lonely
  • Constant social network connection doing little to alleviate loneliness
  • Panic attacks common for one in seven 18-24 year olds

In contrast to popular belief that older people are more likely to feel isolated and lonely, research from Aviva’s new Health Check UK Report1 reveals that 18-24 year olds in the UK are suffering significantly more from feelings of loneliness than any other generation.

Despite being continually connected through social networks, or perhaps because of this, just under half (48%) of 18-24 year olds said they often feel lonely, compared to a quarter (25%) of people aged over 65 and a UK average across all ages of 34%.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year focuses on anxiety, data from the survey of 2,000 UK adults also shows that anxiety is highest amongst the younger generation.

Over a quarter (27%) of 18-24 year olds say they have suffered from anxiety in the last year, compared with 23% of 35-44 year olds and 11% of people aged over 65.

Young adults in the so-called ‘Generation Y’ have been often criticised for being a ‘me, me, me’ generation filled with expectation and a sense of entitlement, yet the report shows that a range of mental health problems are common and more prevalent in this age group.

Alongside anxiety, panic attacks are more common amongst 18-24 year olds than other age group, with around one in seven (14%) saying they have had an attack in the last year. Twice as many of the nation’s youngest adults, aged 18-24, are also experiencing stress compared to those aged 65 or over, with 40% saying they suffer from stress compared to 20%.

Depression is also experienced by a fifth of this age group, with 21% of 18-24 year olds coping with the condition in the last year.

Causes of mental health problems in young adults

For those 18-24 year olds with anxiety, study or exam pressures are cited as the main cause, with 28% of those who have had anxiety in the last year saying this contributed to the problem. Money worries and relationship difficulties are also specified as causes of anxiety, with 22% of people in this age group equally citing these two factors.

Stress amongst this age group is predominantly caused by the pressure of juggling work and home life, with 39% of 18-24 year olds saying this is the leading cause. Study or exam worries, followed by work pressures are also contributing factors for stress amongst this age group at 33% and 32% respectively.

Stigma still common for younger generation

Yet while a large number of younger people are feeling stressed and suffer from other mental health problems, more than any other generation they feel they are unable to talk to anyone because of the stigma of mental illness.

Despite significant and successful public awareness campaigns around mental health, over a third (35%) of 18-24 year olds still say they would be embarrassed to tell people if they have a mental health problem and a quarter (24%) say they would not go and get help because of the stigma.

Indeed, 41% of 18-24 year olds surveyed who experienced anxiety in the last year confirmed that they didn’t seek any help, while two thirds (66%) of those who had stress also didn’t reach out for any support.

Younger people are also most likely to feel that people with mental health issues are a burden on society and have the least sympathy for mental illness, explaining in some part how a lack of understanding may lead to unwillingness to confront any of their own problems. 17% of 18-24 year olds felt people with mental health problems were a burden on society, while 12% believed they didn’t deserve sympathy.

Dr Doug Wright, medical director at Aviva, said: “The challenges and uncertainties faced by young people moving into adulthood today are many, and for some can lead to the onset of mental health problems. What’s equally worrying is that stigma around mental health still exists amidst vulnerable young people and this lack of understanding is preventing many from seeking the help they really should be getting.

“Community based mental health services have often been difficult to access and recent media reports also suggest that funding for young people’s mental health services have been cut, which only adds to concerns that our younger generation are in danger of not fulfilling their potential in their adult lives.

“We all have a role to play in challenging negative attitudes and promoting good mental health and more needs to be done to support young people with mental health problems through coordinated action and awareness campaigns across multiple organisations.”

For further information download the Aviva Health Check UK Report

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If you are a journalist and would like further information, please contact: Melissa Loughran: Aviva Press Office: 01904 452791: 07800 691947:

Notes to editors:

  1. The Aviva Health Check UK Report is based on an online survey conducted by ICM research for Aviva UK Health. The survey was carried out between the 24th January and 7th February 2014 with respondents from ICM’s online panel. 1,998 interviews were conducted amongst a nationally representative sample of the UK adult population.
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