Young people who report low levels of confidence and resilience are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor mental wellbeing, according to new research commissioned by Dame Kelly Holmes Trust.

Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, in partnership with YouthSight, surveyed 1,002 young people (aged 16-24) from across the UK to examine the link between positive character traits and mental wellbeing.

3 in 10 young people in the UK at high risk of ‘major depression’

The research compared the individual responses of young people on a General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE) to the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS). The findings showed a strong correlation between young people who reported having low levels of confidence and those who were at high risk of major depression. Other risk factors included low motivation and the ability to recover from adversity.

Significant link between low confidence and poor mental wellbeing

Over half (54%) of young people who reported low levels of confidence also had poor mental wellbeing, compared to only 21% of other respondents. This relationship was the same for young people who reported low levels of resilience, with almost half (49%) suffering from poor mental wellbeing compared to just 20% of the remainder.

In total, 29% of young people who took part in the research scored below 40 on the WEMWBS, which suggests a high risk of major depression. Poor mental wellbeing was most prevalent in:

  • Yorkshire & Humberside (38%)
  • East Midlands (32%)
  • Scotland (31%)
  • London (30%).

The Mental Health Foundation recently announced that 75% of mental health problems are established by age 24. The NHS has also linked low self-esteem and confidence to addictive coping mechanisms, such as smoking and drinking.

Dame Kelly Holmes, Founder and President at Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, said:

“This new piece of research shows the importance of increasing self-esteem, confidence and resilience within young people in order to manage their own mental wellbeing. These traits do not make a young person immune to suffering from mental health problems, however they do significantly reduce the risk; and greater awareness is needed about their importance.

They are also essential in order to deal with adversity and support recovery from poor mental health; something which I have experienced first-hand. Without possessing these attitudes it would have been hard for me at times to see a light at the end of the tunnel, however with them you always have the ability to persevere and return to a positive mindset.

If we fail to invest in supporting young people to develop their personal, social and emotional development then we risk these figures being even higher amongst the next generation and the very real possibility of a youth mental health crisis.

I am incredibly proud about the impact we are able to evidence on the Trust’s programmes to improve the mental wellbeing of young people.”

Gail Scott-Spicer, CEO at Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, added:

“At the Trust we actively work with some of the most disadvantaged young people across the UK, who through no fault of their own arrive to us with extremely low levels of self-confidence and often deeply engrained mental health problems.

“It is essential that as a society we acknowledge the importance of positive character traits to reduce the risk of poor mental health; and most importantly realise that these traits can be unlocked from every single young person, regardless of their past or current circumstances.

This has been demonstrated on our flagship Get on Track programme this year, where the mental wellbeing of young people increased by 17.2% on the WEMWBS scale after only six weeks. This represents a transformational change; and highlights the crucial need to be proactive in developing positive attitudes and character in our young people.”

Curtis, 20 from Derby, added:

“During my teenage years, my life was not what I wanted it to be. It came to the point where I was wanting to hurt myself and I actually did end up in hospital for a few days.

My sister was the one who made me go on a Get on Track programme. I was able to come out of my shell, be confident, have a group of friends around me and do good things in the community. I am now working in a pub and restaurant and it has changed my whole life.

I have also finally pursued my passion for music, which allows me to get my feelings and emotions out into a song and just let the world hear it without a care in the world.

Without access to support I would not have been able to follow my dreams and aspirations. I would not be living the life that I am at the moment.

Other young people should have the same opportunity as I did to turn things around.”

Dame Kelly Holmes Trust is currently using an award from players of People’s Postcode Lottery to deliver programmes that improve the mental wellbeing of young people facing disadvantage in schools and communities across the UK.