Experts reveal the great harm young people are doing
themselves now and for the future.
Jonathan Thompson and Sophie Goodchild
The Independent UK - This Britain
Published: 27 November 2005
Dylan Griffiths has spent more than 20 years healing
the minds of troubled teenagers. But the psychiatrist
is shocked by what he is now facing on a daily basis.
He is treating record numbers of disturbed young
patients, unable to cope with the pressures of modern
life, who are hooked on drink, drugs and underage sex,
or who are so desperate they even contemplate suicide.
today's teens, marijuana, cocaine and alcohol are as
ubiquitous as traffic on the street," said Dr
Griffiths, who is based at
"Adolescents who self-harmed were rare 30 years ago.
Today, self-harming is a dramatic, addictive behaviour,
a maladaptive way for growing numbers of youngsters to
relieve their psychological distress."
shocking extent of teen angst among
youth is revealed tomorrow in one of the most
comprehensive reports ever carried out into adolescent
mental health. Backed by counsellors, drug experts and
mental health charities including Sane, the
independent study commissioned by the Priory Group
paints a bleak picture of the growing mental-health
crisis among 12- to 19-year-olds.
Family break-up, increasing pressure to achieve at
school, a lack of tolerance in society and an
"anything goes" attitude are all contributing to a
rise in the number of young people pushed to the brink
of suicide, with others driven to experiment with
drugs, drink and underage sex as a way of coping with
than 900,000 adolescents have been so miserable they
have considered suicide, the study says. A million
have wanted to self-harm and more than half a million
have experienced bullying or violence at home.
Priory research is based on interviews with 1,000
girls and boys across the country as well as an
analysis of figures provided by the Office of National
Statistics. More than one in seven 14-year-olds and
one in 25 young people of 13 said they had had sex.
Around one in every 13 teenage boys and girls said
they had gone through with sex because of peer
pressure, not because they wanted to.
Ministers are discussing measures to make family
doctors warn police and social workers about young
patients who are having under-age sex.
pressure was also to blame for many adolescents using
alcohol or drugs - one in 20 teenagers of 13 and
around one in six 15-year-olds had experimented with
illegal substances in the belief that it would make
them look "cool" and be better accepted at school.
Another worrying trend is the increase in teenagers
who have such low self-esteem that they think they
need radical surgery to make them look "normal".
Nearly one in five 15-year-old girls and boys and one
in every 20 young people of 13 said they had
considered plastic surgery.
Counsellors, drug experts and mental health charities
agree that action is needed urgently to prevent a
generation of young people growing up with serious
mental health problems. Dr Angharad Rudkin, a
children's therapist, said that the internet and
mobiles, which have given rise to text bullying, were
"There is a lot more stress now in the education
system and a pressure on teenagers to be thin,
beautiful, successful and to have sex," said the
clinical psychologist, based in
Hampshire. "There's less guidance for teenagers, less
mentoring and fewer role models for positive behaviour."
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, said that
increased availability of drugs was a huge factor in
the rise in young people suffering from mental
"Young people who may have symptoms of mental illness
rumbling under the surface are being pushed to
flashpoint very quickly because of binge drinking and
the availability of drugs, particularly chemical
hybrids," she said. "Many of them will go on to
develop lasting mental illness."
Virginia Ironside, the agony aunt and writer, said
that the "curse" of a wealthy society was that young
people had too much choice, so were confused about
"Pressures are absolutely nothing compared with what
they used to be - pressure used to be going up
chimneys. But at least if you are going up a chimney
you know where you are."
DRINK: Emma East, 15
home life stresses me out as I often have fights with
my family. It means I can't concentrate in school and
it affects my schoolwork. My family don't get on at
all. I got really badly drunk once and was sick in the
pub, so I haven't touched the stuff since last
Christmas. I had a really bad experience and don't
want to touch the stuff any more. I've been to church
for the past five years. My parents don't go; I go by
myself. You learn things there to help you in your
everyday life. It's a support network."
of 14-year-olds have consumed alcohol
DRUGS: Sevim Hodge, 16
starts at secondary school, where there is a huge
emphasis on status. Drugs offer an easy solution to
these pressures. From the age of 13 I was smoking
cannabis with my friends. It was only my own willpower
that helped me stop, and what I saw happening to my
friends. I'm still friends with people who take drugs
and at least a third of them now are regular users,
but it can easily spiral out of control. I've seen
cocaine taken openly in the playground."
of 16-year-olds have tried illegal substances such as
marijuana or cocaine
BULLYING: Michael Licudi, 17
was targeted by homophobic bullies outside my school
and ended up on anti-depressants. Being gay, I've
rap culture promotes masculine stereotypes in schools.
The media, particularly programmes such as Little
Britain and The Catherine Tate Show, also legitimise a
certain way of saying and doing things. If you don't
match those stereotypes, then it makes acceptance much
more difficult. There has always been a cool group,
but media influence gives them an added legitimacy and
of 13-year-olds are bullied at school
SELF HARM: Imogen Townley, 15
"It's a bit weird, but a lot of girls in my year cut
themselves. I think it's supposed to be some kind of
statement, because they roll their sleeves up in class
to show the marks. It's like they're trying to say,
'Look at me, I'm so stressed out, so messed up and
misunderstood, so beautiful but lonely.' But all
they're trying to do is get attention."
of 15-year-olds have wanted to hurt themselves
SEX: Amari Nunesi, 14
course teenagers are going to have sex. We like doing
it, it's as simple as that. We like it as much as
adults do. Society can't stop it. Nobody can stop it.
The only thing that would stop it is if they made more
ugly girls. Family-wise it's more difficult for
teenagers now, because a lot of people don't have two
parents, so they don't know who to go to with their
problems. Sometimes you want to speak to your mum
about something, but if you're staying with your dad
of 14-year-olds have had sexual intercourse
STRESS: Steph Ashcroft, 13
"There are people from my school who have anger
management counselling, and others who have
counselling for depression and abnormal behaviour. I
guess about 10 people in my year are having therapy.
There are some kids who have hit teachers over the
head with chairs. Sometimes they just go ape and throw
everything about. There are a lot of people at school
with a lot of issues, unfortunately. I get tense
myself sometimes. I got an after-school detention last
week for calling one of the teachers a stroppy cow."
of 14-year-olds have considered taking their own lives
BODY IMAGE: Sebastian Emin, 13
am happy with my body but I would definitely change my
height. I used to get picked on because I'm only 4ft
6in. Everyone sees something they don't like about
themselves. If you take a photo, you look at your lips
or your eyes and you think they look horrible. We
always find something wrong with ourselves. I think
Peter Andre has got the perfect body. He's more
popular because of his looks - particularly his
muscles. Britney Spears has the perfect female figure.
She's so slim."
of 14-year-olds have considered plastic surgery