Mental health has worsened among young people

Young girl dressed in black sitting on a bench,  alone and deep in thought.
© Hollandse Hoogte / David Rozing
In 2021, 18 percent of young people in the Netherlands (12 to 24 years) were mentally unhealthy. This was still 11 percent in 2019 and in 2020. Compared to previous years, girls and young adults in particular were more likely to suffer from mental health issues in 2021. More young people felt downhearted and blue, for instance. This is evident from the latest National Health Survey, which includes questions on people’s current mental health situation.
Their mental health situation was assessed on the basis of responses to five different questions taken from the Mental Health Inventory-5 (MHI-5). Mental health was measured by asking young people five questions about their mood during the four weeks before the survey, including: ‘How much of the time, during the past month, have you felt downhearted and blue?’ and ‘How much of the time, during the past month, have you felt so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up?’. The respondents could choose from six different answers, ranging from ‘None of the time’ to ‘All of the time’. Based on the answers, a score was calculated in a range between 0 (very unhealthy) and 100 (perfectly healthy). Young people with a score below 60 were identified as being mentally unhealthy.

Previous research already indicated that young people’s mental health started worsening in the final quarter of 2020, continuing downwards in the first two quarters of 2021. The deterioration occurred in a period with multiple restrictions during the prolonged coronavirus pandemic in the Netherlands. These included the closure of schools and various lockdowns.

More mental health issues than two years earlier among young women in particular

The worst deterioration in mental health has occurred among young women (12 to 24 years). Whereas in 2019, an MHI-5 score below 60 was measured among 14 percent, this was 24 percent in 2021. At the same time, mental health deteriorated among young men. The mental health decline was seen among both teenagers (12 to 17-year-olds) and young adults (18 to 24-year-olds). In all of the years surveyed, a mental health decline was more prevalent among young women than among young men and also applied more often to 18 to 24-year-olds than to 12 to 17-year-olds.

Mentally unhealthy (MHI-5 <60)
psychisch gezondheid2021 (% of young people aged 12-24 yrs)2020 (% of young people aged 12-24 yrs)2019 (% of young people aged 12-24 yrs)
12 to 17 yrs12.67.28.3
18 to 24 yrs22.413.812.7

Nearly half of young people were impacted negatively by the pandemic

Based on the available data, no direct link can be established between COVID-19 and mental health. Nevertheless, according to other CBS research, 47 percent of young people believe that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on their lives was negative to very negative. A slightly smaller share (43 percent) experienced both negative and positive effects from the crisis. At 53 percent, the share of young adults who stated that the crisis had a negative to very negative impact on their lives was larger than the share of teenagers (38 percent) stating the same.

Perceived impact of the coronavirus crisis on everyday life, 20211)
 Positive/very positive (%)Both positive and negative (%)Negative/very negative (%)No impact (%)
Total young population6.042.946.74.5
12 to 17 yrs8.048.638.15.3
18 to 24 yrs4.438.753.03.9
1)Questions about the impact of the coronavirus crisis were asked in the period February-April 2021.

Young people more likely downhearted and blue

The Mental Health Inventory-5 (MHI-5) takes stock of mental health. The latest edition shows a number of changes relative to 2019. A higher share of young people indicated that they had felt downhearted and blue a good bit of the time, most of the time or all of the time in the month before the survey in 2021. In addition, more people reported being down in the dumps, feeling unhappy and suffering from anxiety. There was, however, no change in the share of young people who said they felt nervous a good bit of the time, most of the time or all of the time.

Underlying aspects of poor mental health
aspect2021 (% of young people aged 12-24 yrs)2020 (% of young people aged 12-24 yrs)2019 (% of young people aged 12-24 yrs)
Feeling nervous a good bit,
most or all of the time
Down in the dumps and unable to cheer up
a good bit, most or all of the time
Calm and peaceful some,
a little or none of the time
Downhearted and blue a good bit,
most or all of the time
A happy person some,
a little or none of the time

Aside from mental health, data on other topics obtained from the National Health survey including health perceptions have been made available in the National Youth Monitor.

Do you need counselling or assistance?
You may call the Child helpline: 0800-0432 (if you are 18 years or under)
or the ‘Alles oke?’ support line: 0800-0450 (if you are between 18 and 25 years).