With 2018 being Scotland’s Year of Young People, the charity warned too many young adults are struggling with mental health problems and is urging immediate action to tackle the problem.
Isabella Goldie, director of development and delivery at the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Loneliness among younger people is hugely under-reported but our research is clear that social isolation affects the mental health of young people more than any other age group.
“Our children are finding life harder to navigate than previous generations and, worryingly, they are living with high levels of distress. This is something we can no longer choose to ignore.
“Relationships and social connections remain at the heart of what makes and breaks our mental health.
“A child’s ability to communicate and form relationships is vital right from the point that they enter the education system if they are to thrive at school – and ‘school readiness’ is one of the strongest predictors of whether a child will go on to develop mental health problems.”
She added: “If the Scottish Government is serious about making 2018 the Year of Young People, then it must place health and wellbeing at the heart of the school curriculum – not at the sidelines as it currently is.
“It needs to invest in school-based counselling and give teachers the training they need to create inclusive environments and explore mental health.
“Too many of our young people are not thriving and unless we act now, we will face an imminent mental health storm.”
The charity said loneliness can contribute to stress, anxiety, depression, paranoia and cognitive decline, and is a well-known factor in suicide.
The study of 250 young people found more than eight in ten (82 per cent) said spending time face to face with others improves their mental health.
The research suggests the stigma of loneliness remains the greatest barrier to seeking help as 46 per cent said they would be too embarrassed to talk about it and 52 per cent feel they ought to cope with the problem themselves.
The research was carried out by YouGov at the end of November.
The festive season might seem to fill everyone else might be full of excitement and anticipation, but you can’t shake the nagging feeling that your mental health is about to take a turn for the worse.
It might feel counterintuitive that a period of family, time off work and eating your body weight in chocolate could make you feel low, but many people find exactly this in the run up to Christmas.
The reasons for this can be very personal (perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you and the holidays remind you of this) but there are lots of common things that might be triggering this feeling too.
So HuffPost UK spoke to experts who specialise in anxiety, depression, and more general mental health to ask why these things can be triggered at this time of year.
Why does my mental health get worse at Christmas?
It’s no surprise that many people worry about being able to afford all the extra expenses the season brings, especially as the costs just keep racking up, and knowing that this will continue into the new year can make the problem even worse.
A spokesperson for Anxiety UK says: “Financial difficulties may cause a great deal of anxiety at Christmas with presents to buy, outfits to pick out and all the festive ‘essentials’, such as tree decorations and gift-wrapping that need to be considered.
“Navigating your way through crowded shopping centres can also prove to be a nightmare.”
A 2015 survey by Mind found that 20% of people have felt lonely during Christmas as not everyone has family or friends to spend it with, and those of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one may find Christmas particularly difficult.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, says: “At Christmas existing problems can seem even bigger – if you are lonely, it can highlight how lonely you are and make you feel that you should be socialising.
“Although loneliness itself isn’t a mental health problem, the two are often strongly connected and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health.”
More Social Engagements
This might seem ironic given that many people struggle with loneliness, but those people who do have active social lives might find this doesn’t solve the problem either, as this party season can be overwhelming.
The Mind survey also found that 19% of people had pretended to be sick to get out of staff Christmas parties and 25% of adults in UK feel anxious about social gatherings during the festive period.
If you do make it out of the house, the amount you are drinking at this social occasions (and just about anywhere else around Christmas) can make mental health worse as well, as it exacerbates anxiety.
Chloe Brotheridge, an anxiety expert at Calmer You, says: “Despite its association with merriment, alcohol is actually a depressant, it lowers our sleep quality, and many people experience hangover anxiety (hangxiety) the day after a big night on the booze.”
Everyone knows that social media can be the perfect catalyst for perpetuating feelings of low self-esteem and self-comparison, as it encourages us all to believe we should have a perfect Christmas.
The Anxiety UK spokesperson added: “Those of us with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may feel even more pressure to have a ‘perfect holiday’ as our feeds continually update us on the developments of other peoples’ lives.”
Darker evenings and colder weather can have an impact on our daily lives, and going for days without seeing any sunlight may lead to feelings of sadness.
What can I do to improve my mental health at Christmas?
Share Your Feelings
Whether it is with family, friends, or a trained counsellor, sharing how you are feeling is the first step towards making things better at any time of the year.
Stuart Hill, senior digital lead for the Mental Health Foundation, says: “It’s hard to admit that at such an exciting time of year you don’t actually feel that great. But talking about your feelings can improve your mood and make it easier to deal with the tough times. It’s part of taking charge of your mental wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.”
Get Out Of The House
It can be tempting just to hibernate, avoid social engagements, and not leave the house, but Hill says that you shouldn’t let the cold weather put you off.
“It’s no surprise that cold weather and short days are not the greatest motivation to get you out of bed and on a 5k run! But research shows that doing exercise releases chemicals in your body that can make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you to concentrate, sleep and feel better,” says Hill.
Take A Break From Social Media
If you think that social media could be playing a part in how you’re feeling (it is likely to be doing so) then why not take a digital detox and step away for a little while. It can be 24 hours or days, depending on how you feel, but you might be surprised by the difference.
Buckley says: “If you are feeling bombarded by external pressure to be spending money, socialising and having a good time over the festive period, you could consider taking a break from technology and set aside some time each day to do something else you enjoy like reading a book or watching movies.”
Give Some Thought To Self-Care
As soon as our mental health suffers, we can all be guilty of not taking the time to address our own self-care (especially around Christmas when we are so busy with other commitments).
Botheridge says: “If it’s not scheduled in, it often doesn’t happen so I believe we need to schedule our downtime and self-care to ensure we make it our priority. Several times a day, check in with yourself and ask yourself – how am I speaking to myself right now?”
Eat Well And Drink In Moderation
Of course we want to stuff our faces completely overindulge, but actually this can just contribute to an all-round ill picture of health (not just mentally).
Hill says: “For example, too much sugar can have a noticeable effect on your mental health and wellbeing in the short and long term.
″[And] some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only ever temporary. It’s great to catch up with friends or colleagues in the pub – spending time on good relationships is essential for good mental health – but know your limits. It’s important to maintain your wellbeing, too.”
At a time of year when most people are enjoying themselves there are many who cannot join in, but despite the challenges services face, help is available.
Christmas is a time for joy, celebration and bringing together family and friends to share this merriment. While taking nothing away from this much needed festivity, spare a thought for those who are less advantaged – particularly those with mental health problems.
Mental illness transcends all ages and backgrounds. Almost one in four adults have a mental illness at some point in their lives, such as stress, anxiety, depression or psychosis.
An individual’s emotional health can also have a great impact on physical health, and poor mental health can lead to problems such as alcohol and drug abuse.
And so, at a time when the rest of the nation is busy celebrating, there are many who just cannot, rather than will not, be able to do so because of their mental ill health. Indeed their inability to join in on the fun can exacerbate their isolation.
The environment we live in plays a crucial role in the genesis of mental illness. Austerity is certainly not good for mental health; it affects those in lower income brackets, and those at particular risk of mental disorders, the hardest. Public spending cuts have hit some of the most vulnerable sections of society – those in receipt of social care or on pension credits, and disabled and unemployed people.
So where might someone go, if their mental health is failing? NHS commissioning for mental health services has been nothing short of a disaster and an abject failure in many places.
But here’s the double whammy. In austere times, commissioners do not pump more money into the system; rather they tend to raid mental health budgets to plug the growing deficits in the acute hospital sector.
Despite the crucial importance of mental health services, they have always been the poor relation in any health system in general and the NHS in particular. These services, which are underfunded, demoralised and struggling with demand, are not to be seen and preferably not to be heard.
This may sound dramatic, but the reality is that there has been long-term neglect in addressing the many problems that most NHS mental services and their patients are faced with – access to timely appointments, access to local beds, services that are joined up and in one place like other NHS services are, and enough doctors and nurses in the system. The list goes on.
The scale of the mental health challenge has been underestimated. NHS England has set out its plan for achieving recommendations made in its Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (pdf) to improve mental healthcare by 2020-21. It has committed to transforming mental health services with an extra £1bn a year. Those at the coalface know this is yesterday’s money – demand is ever increasing, and the historic deficit in funding can only be addressed if politicians and senior managers can have frank conversations.
Back to Christmas then. Though this is a challenging time for those with mental illnesses, statutory and voluntary organisations are there to support these individuals and therefore it is vitally important to ask for help.
Despite the pressures on the system, services are there for those who need urgent help or are facing a crisis – the doors won’t close to them.
And for those with less serious issues, there are measures that can be taken without resorting to statutory and voluntary services. Family, friends and individuals can watch out for abnormal behaviour, such as panic attacks, and try to restore calmness by getting away from noisy, busy places and doing breathing exercises.Avoid having an argument, the tension will almost certainly ease.
Finding a place for shelter, a warm meal, and ensuring youngsters are protected are not impossible goals, though at times it might seem like that.
Depression and stress can make one unnecessarily pessimistic, although simple measures such as not indulging in alcohol and drugs or spending within means can reduce the plight of those who are not in a good place.
An uplifted spirit will bring back that joy and hope, and trigger off a feelgood factor that can be the springboard to happiness. Good mental health brings with it a whole lot of goodies in Santa’s stocking, because after all, physical fitness and wealth are meaningless without it. And let’s hope Santa has something for struggling mental health services.