In March 2023, 14.1% of young people in the Netherlands (aged 12-25 years) reported seriously thinking about ending their life occasionally, often or very often. This is evidenced by the latest quarterly research update from the GOR Network. In late 2021, this was still the case for 8.5% of young people. This means that the percentage of young people with suicidal thoughts remains high, following a major increase during the last lockdown period. GPs also recorded 24% more patient contacts related to suicide (including attempts and thoughts) in that period, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biggest increase in the number of young people with suicidal thoughts took place one year ago. The percentage of young people with such thoughts rose from 8.5% in December 2021 to 16.8% in March 2022. In the period between these two measurements, the third and final lockdown was in effect in the Netherlands. Even after that, this figure remained significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.
In-depth analysis shows that young people with mental health symptoms and emotional loneliness are more likely to have suicidal thoughts. People who experience emotional loneliness lack an intimate connection to one or more people. The issue is not how many people they know, but the quality of their contacts.
Causes of suicidal thoughts
Young people who reported having suicidal thoughts occasionally or often were asked if they wanted to explain why they were feeling distressed. They expressed having depressive thoughts about themselves or experiencing difficulty in taking active part in society. Some also struggled 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
Many young people also indicated that they were very busy. This leads to stress, making them feel that they have no time to calm down 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. The lack of downtime and connection may also be caused by their home situation.
Possible solutions for feeling better
We also asked young people what helped them feel better. They often mentioned that they need more downtime, more free time and less pressure to perform, but also 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 to experience a sense of understanding. Spirituality can also help them experience the meaning of life. Some also indicated that a diagnosis can offer peace of mind, and medication (or self-medication) was also mentioned as a possible solution.
About the study
These results are from the seventh quarterly survey among young people in the Netherlands (aged 12-25 years). This survey-based study is part of Health Research for COVID-19. The health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are being assessed in this joint initiative by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the local Municipal Public Health Services (GGDs), GGD GHOR Nederland (the national umbrella organisation of the GGDs and Regional Medical Assistance Organisations), the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (Nivel), and ARQ National Psychotrauma Centre.