The Government should push through plans to limit the sale of alcohol, and alcohol sponsorship of sport and culture events despite Cabinet divisions, Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister, said yesterday.
Ms Lynch was speaking after the launch of a major study on youth mental health which found a strong link between drinking and negative mental health.
The largest study of youth mental health ever conducted in Ireland, the My World survey shows that while the majority of young people were functioning well across a variety of mental health indicators, others were not, and that mental health difficulties peaked in the late teens and early 20s.
It found that:
* Gender was a risk factor, with males more engaged in risky behaviour and less likely to speak about their problems, while females are more likely to avoid problems as a coping strategy;
* Excessive drinking had very negative consequences for youth mental health, and depression and anxiety increased significantly in those who engaged in harmful drinking or were alcohol dependent;
* Young adults who did not speak about their problems had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and self-harm;
* Financial stress was also a growing factor in some young lives.
The high level of alcohol consumption was illustrated by the figure of just 52% of sixth years in the ‘normal’ drinking category.
Overall, it found that drinking peaked between the ages of 18 and 21.
Some 31% of 16- and 17-year-olds reported binge drinking every month, a figure that rises to 36% for 18- and 19-year-olds and is even higher for those aged 20 and 21.
Ms Shortall has brought forward a plan to introduce minimum pricing and cut sponsorship, but other minister have raised concerns.
She said: “What must come first is the health of the nation. If health is the priority we have to ensure that our youth are safe.”
Ms Lynch said access to cheap drink needed to be tackled and “the sky did not fall in” when tobacco sponsorship was dropped.
She advocated a ‘whole of school’ approach to tackle risky behaviour in school students, as well as offering them support when they have problems.
It would require training for teachers and others within the school system so they could step in and help the student. A pilot study is already taking place in St Peter’s School in Dunboyne, Co Meath.
Marie Louise Neary of Headstrong said a whole of school approach could also be considered at primary level.
The report also advocates the idea of ‘one good adult’ — essentially, that if every young person had an adult with whom they could discuss mental health matters and confide in, they would feel the benefit.
The project, a collaboration between Headstrong and University College Dublin, was funded by the One Foundation.
Tim Smyth, Headstrong’s youth ambassador, said the data needed to be tracked every three to five years, a call echoed by Dr Tony Bates, Headstrong founding director. He said services were particularly needed for 16- and 17-year-olds, who were often too young for some services and too old for others.
He said the state of the economy was creating a new level of concern among young people and recalled how in the study, a 16-year-old in Co Offaly had “stunned” researchers when asking what coping mechanisms were advised on days when there was no food in the family home.
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