More than 1 in 5 young people (22%) between the ages of 12 and 25 years seriously thought about ending their lives between December 2021 and February 2022. A lockdown was in effect in the Netherlands at that time. During that period, GPs recorded a 37% increase in suicide-related cases (including thoughts and attempts) among young people, compared to the same period (2019) before the coronavirus measures. In contrast, adults showed improvement during the same period, according to the third quarterly survey by the GOR Network. The network is a joint initiative by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel), ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre and GGD GHOR Netherlands. This third survey round looked at the period from December 2021 to February 2022.
The aim of the ongoing study is to provide accurate information on the consequences of COVID-19 in relation to the health and well-being of the population of the Netherlands. By providing that information, the GOR Network advises and supports policymakers in the process of developing policies. This helps to establish care and support that is appropriate to meet current demand, thus limiting negative health impacts. In addition, the results offer insight into existing risks and vulnerabilities that also deserve attention separate from this crisis.
Groups of young people who are more likely to have suicidal thoughts
Researchers investigated which groups of young people are more likely to seriously think about killing themselves. These groups mainly involved young people who were also struggling with loneliness, reduced mental health and intensified PTSD symptoms. In addition, young people who experienced an event related to COVID-19 were more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Examples include situations such as ending up in hospital, or losing someone important to them who died of COVID-19.
Many young people with mental health problems
The survey also showed that many young people suffered from mental health problems (43%). Other issues mentioned in the survey included stress (55%) and physical symptoms that may have been caused by stress (58%), such as tiredness (36%), irritability (22%) or problems with memory and/or concentration (22%).
Most adults were doing better
In general, adults experienced better mental health during the last lockdown, compared to young people. Even among adults, however, the group of younger adults (aged 26 to 35 years) reported the highest percentage of mental health problems (36%). In adults aged 36 to 75 years, the percentage of people with mental health problems decreased steadily with age. Above that age, mental health problems were slightly more likely among people aged 76 years and older. Examples include loneliness, stress and suicidal thoughts.
Policy and assistance: focusing on vulnerable young people
It is very important to maintain contact with young people, no matter what happens. In the Netherlands, for example, there are several helplines for young people with mental health problems. Websites such as Jongeren Hulp Online and Brainwiki offer a clear overview of all the available options. In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Agenda is one of the cornerstones of suicide prevention policy in the Netherlands. STORM, one of the projects on that agenda which specifically focuses on young people, has already been implemented a number of schools in the Netherlands. The programme helps to improve mental health among pupils and reduce the risk of suicide.
During the survey period, there was an elevated risk of mental health problems among young people. It is important to continue monitoring ongoing development and to be particularly alert to the needs of the risk groups. Looking to the future, it is important to consciously include mental health risks when considering any new measures.
Research programme on impact of prolonged crisis
The COVID-19 epidemic has caused a crisis that is lasting a long time. Much is known about the impact of short-term crises (such as a major accident or natural disaster). Little is known about the impact of slow-moving, long-term crises and how they affect physical and mental health. The GOR Network is gathering more knowledge about this topic through a five-year research programme: the Integrated Health Monitor for COVID-19. The monitor compiles information once every quarter and once a year. This will allow policy-makers to take effective measures in response to the current crisis and similar situations in the future. This programme was commissioned by the Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS).