Young people aged 15-24 years are more likely to visit the GP for suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts, feelings of anxiety, depression, dizziness and fatigue than in 2019, before the COVID-19 period. This is evidenced by the latest quarterly update from March 2023. The percentage of young people who report having mental health problems has remained high since the last lockdown (in early 2022). The results of the quarterly study are part of the Health Research for COVID-19 research programme. 

The Network for Health Research in Disasters (GOR Network) publishes a quarterly update on this page, summarising key results from survey research and data from primary care providers. The aim is to provide information to the municipalities, the provinces and the national government of the Netherlands to assist them in formulating policies.

Summary of research round 7

Results have been published from six previous research rounds focusing on young people in the Netherlands. From round 3 on, adults (26 years and over) were also included in the study. The following is a summary of key results from youth research.

Frequency of GP visits for mental health problems among young people has not diminished since COVID-19 pandemic

In the first quarter of 2023, young people aged 15-24 years visited the GP significantly more often since COVID-19, especially for mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, intense stress and suicide (including attempts). Primary care data also shows an increase in physical symptoms that are often seen in combination with mental health problems, such as dizziness and tiredness. Where young people saw their GP less often for tiredness in 2021 and 2022 compared to 2019, that trend was reversed in 2023. Feelings of anxiety, which were already higher than before the COVID-19 period, were 11% more common in the first quarter of 2023 than in the first quarter of 2020. 

More GP visits related to suicide than in 2019 

Compared to the same period in 2019, there was a 24% increase in GP visits related to suicide among young people aged 15-24 years in the first quarter of 2023. The difference compared to 2019 has grown smaller than it was earlier in the pandemic. In the last quarter of 2021, it was 51% higher than before COVID-19. These figures could involve fatal and non-fatal suicide attempts, but also suicidal thoughts. The survey-based research also continues to show the same high levels of young people who report having suicidal thoughts. RIVM published a news item on this topic on 18 April 2023. 

Number of young people who report having mental health problems remains stable

In the survey-based research, the percentage of young people experiencing mental health problems increased sharply after the last lockdown: from 25% in September 2021 2 39% in March 2020. After the peak in March 2022, the percentage remained stable and above 30%. In March 2023 as well, 1 in 3 young people reported having mental health problems. The figures on suicidal thoughts showed a similar trend: 8% in September 2021, 17% in March 2022 after the lockdown, 15% in December 2022 and 14% in March 2023. In other words, the number of young people with mental health problems remains high. Although primary care data indicates an increase in young people experiencing mental health problems, the survey results show that the numbers are stabilising. 

Young people with mental health problems feel a need for acceptance 

Why is it that the number of young people experiencing mental health problems has remained high since the COVID-19 pandemic? In this round, young people who reported having mental health problems, suicidal thoughts, or a need for psychological assistance, were asked where that came from. Young people expressed having depressive thoughts about themselves and feeling uncertain about their future. Some have been experiencing mental health problems for a much longer period. In particular, some of the young people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts reported feeling that their life is pointless or empty. Some young people struggle with social contact due to a diagnosis such as autism or ADHD. Overall, they expressed a need for acceptance: feeling connected to others and satisfied with themselves. 

Not enough downtime 

To experience that sense of connection and to explore who they are, they need downtime: peace and quiet. However, many of them indicated that they were very busy. This leads to stress, making them feel that they have no time to contemplate or do fun things. Money concerns, housing shortages and pressure to perform also cause unrest and contribute to their perceived uncertainty about their own future. Young people also report that the housing shortage causes them to live with their parents or stay in rental housing for longer than they would like. The lack of downtime and connection may also be caused by their home situation, such as providing informal care for a parent who is ill, or conflict at home.  

Need for downtime, a good talk or treatment 

Young people also had the opportunity to state what would help them feel better. They often mentioned that they need more downtime, more peace and quiet. That could be achieved through more free time and less pressure to perform, but also by having enough money and a nice place to live. In addition, they feel a need to talk to their parents or loved ones, to receive expressions of love, and they want to experience a sense of understanding. Some indicate that spirituality could also help them experience the meaning of life. Others say a diagnosis that explains their perceived health problems could give them peace of mind. All sorts of distractions are also mentioned as things that would make them feel better. Other than that, treatment in the form of medication or surgery could offer solutions for young people who feel depressed due to physical health problems, such as severe allergies, disabilities or chronic pain. 

Approach used in the quarterly youth study 

The quarterly study consists of data from two sources: the survey-based study and the primary care data provided by GPs. Between 13 and 27 March 2023, a total of 5,285 young people (aged 12-25 years) completed a survey on their mental and physical health. The primary care data (from the Nivel Primary Care Database) encompasses visits to general practitioners by young people (0-24 years) in the period from January 2023 to March 2023. GPs keep track of the health problems and conditions for which young people visit their practice.  

Upcoming and previous research rounds 

Since September 2021, this quarterly study has taken place every 3 months. Results of previous research rounds are also available. The following research round is planned for June 2023.