Teenagers and young adults have reported feelings of anxiety, sadness, and depression, according to new data published by Richmond Foundation. 

When asked what feelings the participants experienced in the last three months, 70% reported feelings of anxiety. 34.8% of participants reported that they felt anxious “very often”.

The study - a first of its kind - sheds light on the different factors which impact youths’ mental health well-being and delves into the different emotions youths experience, how they deal with them, and their perception of youth support services. 

A total of 417 people aged between 13 and 25 participated in the survey, a majority of which (73%) were full-time and part-time students. 

Richmond Foundation, the NGO which focuses on mental health and provides free services to those in need, commissioned LobesLab to carry out the research project, which was carried out between October 14 to November 16 2021.

The research was carried out via an online survey, and for students of secondary school age, the survey was circulated through the online portals of secondary schools. For the remaining ages, Lobeslab created targeted social media campaigns to encourage young people to open up about their emotions and support systems. 

The results were published during a seminar held on Friday morning at the Verdala Palace in Buskett.

What the survey found 

Participants were asked what feelings they had experienced in the last three months. 70% of them reported feelings of anxiety, with 34.8% reporting that they felt anxious “very often”.

Females feel more anxious than males, with 44% saying that they felt anxious “very often”. On the other hand, only 20% of males reported that.

“420 respondents reported feelings of anxiety, and we are not talking of just the odd day, but long-term feelings of anxiety,” Foundation’s CEO Stephania Dimech Sant said during the launch of the study.

“This is enough to give us the context of why we are doing this today, and why mental health services for young people need to be strengthened.”

Apart from feelings of anxiety, respondents reported also experiencing feelings of “great sadness/ depression”, with 26% saying they experienced such feelings “quite often.”

The teenagers and young adults were asked what emotions they believe typically affect young people. 91% voted for anxiety, followed by stress at 86%.

80% believed young people were affected by depression, and 54% by suicidal thoughts.

Data shows that 92 per cent believe that feelings of anxiety affect many young people. Photo: Richmond FoundationData shows that 92 per cent believe that feelings of anxiety affect many young people. Photo: Richmond Foundation

How do youths cope with such emotions? 

While 42.5% of participants say they would turn to a family member for help, 37% said they would solve the issue on their own and turn to nobody.

Males are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves: 46.3% of them said they would tell nobody about their concerns (versus 32.5% of females), with 42.7% (females: 43%) saying they would turn to a family member.   

Females are also more likely to turn to their partner (32%) or therapist (25%) for help. Only 20% of male participants said they would go to their partner for support, and 17% to a therapist.

Social media not beneficial for mental health

The survey also revealed interesting data on how young people feel about being on social media, and the continuous sense of needing to be present online.

Almost one in every three - 30% - said they have experienced feeling miserable about themselves and what they have achieved when they compare themselves to others on social media.

The data shows that 35.5% of girls experienced “fear of missing out” (FOMO) quite often, and equally 36% of girls felt miserable when they compared themselves to their peers online.

Data provided on youths' online presence. 35 per cent experience fear of missing out  "quite often". Photo: Richmond FoundationData provided on youths' online presence. 35 per cent experience fear of missing out  "quite often". Photo: Richmond Foundation

FOMO-related concerns are especially prevalent among 16-year-old girls: 51% of them reported fear of missing out very often.

Participants were also asked how much time they spent on different activities. 

37% reported spending up to five hours a day navigating the internet and social media. Once again, the data showed that female participants spend more time online (41.5%) than their male peers.

President Vella: 'It's OK not to be OK all the time'

President George Vella addressed the seminar during which the research study was unveiled. 

Vella said he was concerned about the number of young people who have a pessimistic outlook about their future. It is important to assure young people that “it’s okay not to be okay all the time”, he said.  

“Organisations like Richmond Foundation and others provide young people the tools to overcome such insecurities and have enough confidence in their abilities to build a better future on both a personal and professional level,” he said.

Richmond Foundation CEO Stephania Dimech Sant during Friday's launch. Photo: Richmond FoundationRichmond Foundation CEO Stephania Dimech Sant during Friday's launch. Photo: Richmond Foundation

Why is this survey important? 

Richmond Foundation CEO Stephania Dimech Sant said the survey had been spurred by the lack of information and data on the mental health of youths in Malta. 

“There was no data whatsoever about youth mental health, and while we have seen our services and awareness improve throughout the years, more needs to be done,” she said. 

“This data is essential as it can provide more information on how to address mental health for professionals, but also for teenagers and young adults, for them to understand what they are experiencing. Also, for their parents and guardians, to understand what their children will be experiencing, and to understand when necessary to intervene if there is a serious mental health issue.”

She said during the past two years, the demand for Richmond's services by young people increased ten-fold. 

"[We saw a] 1045% increase in young people requesting support, and 1300% increase in follow-ups over the past two years," Dimech Sant said.

"While we might be impressed by the figures, behind them there are many distressed people looking for support and companionship, and we are there 24/7."

The foundation offers therapy support services to those who need it and also runs a campaign, the Gift of Therapy, allowing people to donate money to pay for other people's therapy. 

During the conference, the Foundation also launched a fund-raising campaign, supported by a wide range of media houses which will run through the next four weeks. 

The funds will enable Richmond to reach more young people experiencing mental health changes. 

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