Young people today face a multitude of challenges. It is probably fair to say that many of these have existed for a very long time.

At all ages children have been expected to take tests and sit examinations, with differing levels of importance and with varying levels of pressure. Hierarchies can be evident within the playground, with teasing or bullying of those who seem vulnerable in some way. Unfortunately, children and adolescents are still the victims of ill-treatment and abuse and there is increasing awareness of the long-term effects of trauma. Some young people witness the serious illness or death of a close relative, or they themselves suffer chronic ill-health which significantly interferes with their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. Adolescence is typically a time for self-exploration, and for some young people experimentation with alcohol or drugs results in binges or addiction. Such law-breaking activities may lead to contact with the police, as can temper outbursts which cause damage to people or property.

Arguably, additional pressures exist today. The influence of various media can lead to dissatisfaction with appearance and body image, or unrealistic expectations in terms of lifestyles and prospects. The latter is also affected by concerns about jobs and careers, the state of the environment and relationships. Escapism can be seen in the form of excessive gaming, with the need to interact with a virtual reality appearing almost driven for some young people.  It has always been the case that some children and young people have difficulty talking about their situations and many of these remain distressed but unnoticed until they reach a crisis point and can no longer manage.

At times, these pressures can appear overwhelming. While whether the problems incumbent upon these challenges are increasing can be disputed, there is undoubtedly better recognition of disorders and emotional conditions faced by young people today. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are established throughout the country, but there are indications that these departments have been severely affected by the current economic climate leading to significant waiting lists and the inability to assess those purported to be suffering from less serious conditions, although many clinicians would accept that intervention at an earlier stage is likely to avoid more serious illness at a later stage.

The experience of the nation throughout the current pandemic is exceptional and the full extent of the impact of these unprecedented times on the emotional, social and behavioural development of young people is yet to be realised.


Dr Williams specialises in areas of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry