Posted: 26 August 2015

Seriously Awkward: Developing emotionally through adolescence

Being 16 or 17 can be an awkward age and an anxious period of time for any older teenager. Important decisions need to be made about your future career, first romantic relationships are formed, new social networks are developed and there is a need and desire to explore adult world. Accompanying this is often a pressure to engage in activities that may lead to risks, such as substance misuse or engaging in sexual activities. 

It is also a very important time in young person’s emotional development. While there has always been a better awareness of the importance of brain development in the early years, the importance of adolescent years has been less talked about.

Yet research identified that adolescence is a peak age for the onset of serious mental illness and suggests that mental health needs intensify from age 14 onwards.

High level of emotional needs

Our Seriously Awkward report highlighted that a significant number of 16 and 17 year olds experience negative emotions.

Analysis of Understanding Society data showed that overall 14% of 16 and 17 year olds report low levels of overall life satisfaction -this equates to more than 200,000 16 and 17 year olds across the UK.

In our poll with 16 and 17 year olds and their parents, 41% of 16 and 17 year olds reported feeling always or often one of the following emotions: sad or low, anxious, lonely or distressed or panicked.

Our poll also showed a certain disconnect or lack of understanding between parents and their teenagers on this issues, as parents tended to underestimate the extent to which their 16 and 17 year olds were struggling emotionally.

Table: How parents perceive the lives of young people

Table showing how parents perceive the lives of young people

Lack of services for vulnerable 16-17 year olds

Unmet emotional needs hamper young peoples’ ability to enjoy and progress with their lives. The most vulnerable young people are at risk of developing mental health issues. Young people in the care of local authorities, those affected by domestic violence or child sexual exploitation and homeless young people all have a higher likelihood of developing mental health issues, but find it hard to access support and suffer in silence and isolation. For example,  63% of looked after children have been assessed as having mental health issues but only 35% were accessing child and adolescence mental health services (CAMHS). 

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Sign our petition

Change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from abuse, harm and neglect. 

Being 16 or 17 years old makes accessing mental health services even more difficult. Sixteen and seventeen year olds fall outside the remit of CAMHS in many areas, or only those with high level of need are entitled to support.

Access to mental health support for vulnerable adolescents who may no longer be in contact with public services, such as education, is even more complicated.

That’s why our Seriously Awkward campaign is calling for changes in how mental health needs of older adolescents are met. We want the government to give all 16 and 17 year olds a right to access child and adolescent mental health services and make mental health help available as soon as possible before their needs become acute.

Please sign our petition if you agree.

By Iryna Pona - Policy team
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Sign our petition

Change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds from abuse, harm and neglect. 

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Seriously Awkward: Protect older teenagers

Posted: 23 June 2015

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Seriously Awkward: Why 16 and 17 year olds need our help

Posted: 24 June 2015