25% of young people in Serbia are depressed or anxious

Nearly a quarter of young people in Serbia have experienced depression and anxiety, and half seek some form of psychological support from professionals, according to a national survey on the living and health habits of twenty-year-olds conducted by the Hello 20s platform, created by the pharmaceutical company Galenika.

Young people identified periods of intense anxiety as situations when they need to make important life decisions, such as enrolling in college. Another psychological issue mentioned is exhaustion and problems with focusing, especially during exam periods, which they usually address by consuming copious amounts of coffee or energy drinks.

The survey showed that a quarter of young people believe they take care of their health, while nearly twice as many said they are trying to improve their habits.

Psychotherapist Tatjana Prokić notes that it is alarming that such a significant number of young people in Serbia are dealing with depression and anxiety.

“I have the impression that as a society, we only started paying attention to mental health last year. Young people do not have adequate community support; we generally neglect them as a society and deal with this complex situation in a superficial manner. We need to focus on prevention and mental hygiene primarily, while currently, we are only focused on mitigating the consequences,” says Prokić and adds:

“In Serbia, we do not have trained individuals who will provide psychological first aid, and they don’t necessarily have to be certified psychologists. They need to be familiar with the basics of providing psychological first aid to people who exhibit certain symptomatic behaviours at any given moment. We allow children to spend endlessly long periods on social media and do not show enough interest in engaging with them daily because we are preoccupied with our concerns and work. When we face depression and anxiety in our children, we often think the problem is solved by taking them to a professional, while the root cause lies within the family and its habits. This change is necessary for a more permanent resolution of the situation,” points out Prokić.

She adds that young people are increasingly facing developmental crises, gender identity crises, and alienation, while both parents and society are completely unprepared and do not know how to approach these situations.

“Solving mental health problems requires a multidimensional approach that includes destigmatizing mental health, increasing access to mental health services, promoting awareness of mental health and the importance of mental hygiene, education, and providing support to those in need,” concludes Prokić.

Nevena Buđevac, a professor of educational psychology at the Faculty of Teacher Education, says that when we receive the results of such research, we always initially question whether this means that mental health problems are on the rise or that young people today are more aware of their mental health, thus realistically assessing their capacities and problems.

“In this regard, if we look back a few decades, young people didn’t have as many opportunities to talk about these problems, to be asked about them, and to face what troubles them, or to be informed about the ways they can help themselves. However, it is realistic to say that, with all these considerations, young people today have more mental health problems because life is different from when their parents’ generation was young,” explains Buđevac.

When it comes to parenting, specifically the way we’ve been raising children for years, she mentions that there is a trend of replacing the formerly strict, Spartan upbringing with one that goes to the opposite extreme. This often excludes setting clear and firm boundaries, demanding children fulfill their obligations, and placing children in situations of so-called optimal frustration.

“Instead, there is a flood of permissiveness among parents, raising generations of overprotected children, making any source of stress much harder for them to handle compared to previous generations. Additionally, their immersion in the digital environment leads to problems with focusing and learning, but also creates a space where young people encounter various forms of violence and inappropriate behaviour far more than ever before, which can also be linked to such findings,” Buđevac points out.

However, she says that the results are encouraging in showing that young people know how to help themselves by changing some life habits that positively impact their mental health.

Teodora Brkić, a student at the Faculty of Political Sciences, says that such results do not surprise her.

“Young people are under enormous pressure, both environmental and self-imposed. Enrolling in college is one of the best examples of this – everyone expects us to know what we want to enroll in, everyone expects that we can do it, everyone expects it will be a piece of cake. During studying, we experience the greatest stress during exam periods, where the environment also significantly impacts our mental health,” Brkić notes.

Besides the tension of whether they will meet the conditions for enrollment next year, pass all exams or qualify for dorms, scholarships, and loans, she says that an important factor is not disappointing the broader and immediate family that “believes we can do it all.”

“And with tight deadlines, we need to achieve work-life balance, have enough free time, and socialize. Too much is expected of young people, and they do not receive understanding and support. When people learn which questions not to ask, the numbers in the statistics will decrease,” concludes Brkić.

How do young people in Serbia take care of their health?

The research has also shown that twenty-four percent of respondents believe they take care of their health, while 47% make an effort to do so. Most of them have improved their lifestyle over the past year – 63% of respondents started moving more, 53% began paying more attention to their diet, 40% engaged in sports or physical activities, and 35% reduced their alcohol consumption.

The biggest challenges for the younger generations are insufficient quality sleep, proper nutrition, time spent in nature, and achieving a balance between work and free time. However, these same young people have successfully eliminated cigarettes (48% stated they do not smoke), consume enough fresh fruits and vegetables (76%), and engage in physical activity (56%).

On the other hand, most young people undergo medical check-ups only when required for school or work (25%), 21% go for check-ups once a year, and 17% do not go at all. As many as 30% consider themselves negligent in this regard, stating that they do not take adequate care of their health. Among those who make an effort to take care of their health, more than half are women, totalling 52%.

The survey conducted by the Hello 20s platform included 600 respondents from across Serbia from January to February 2024. The target group consisted of young people aged 19 to 25 years, as well as the population aged 26 to 30 years.

(Danas, 04.07.2024)


This post is also available in: Italiano

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