Mental Health Problems Among Young People in Affluent Communities

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Any young person can develop mental health problems, regardless of their gender, background, nationality, or other aspects of their identity. However, different groups of young people may be at a higher or lower risk of certain mental health issues than others.

In the past years, researchers have explored the mental health risks faced by young people from affluent communities in Europe and North America. They have found that affluence is associated with mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

The most recent research also sheds light on the causes of these mental health concerns. Experts suggest that it’s characteristics of affluent communities – and particularly schools – that may have the biggest impact, rather than the wealth of any individual family. These may include pressure and competition for places in schools and universities and a lack of community ties.

This blog outlines some of the mental health concerns that affect young people from affluent families, schools, and neighbourhoods. It also explores some of their possible causes and the types of treatment available.

What Mental Health Concerns Do Young People in Affluent Communities Face?

Research suggests that young people in affluent communities are more likely to develop certain mental health problems than those in middle-class communities or compared to the national average. 

Compared to middle-class communities:

  • Girls in affluent communities may be more likely to have anxiety or depression
  • Boys in affluent communities may have higher levels of delinquency (taking part in minor crimes)
  • Boys in affluent communities may have higher levels of substance abuse

Why Are Young People in Affluent Communities at a Higher Risk of Some Mental Health Problems?

Early research into affluent young people’s mental health suggested that family dynamics might partly explain higher rates of anxiety, depression, and delinquency. 

Some researchers proposed that children in affluent families are less connected to – and spend less time with – their parents or that they are put under greater family pressure to achieve. They thought that these characteristics might make young people more vulnerable to stress, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and harmful behaviours.

However, as researchers looked deeper into the different factors influencing the well-being of young people in affluent communities, they found that while these family dynamics may exist, they were not the most important factor explaining young people’s mental health problems. They found only limited links between any young person’s family wealth and their mental health (such as between family income and the likelihood of intoxication and property crime). In fact, young people in wealthy families living in middle-class neighbourhoods tended to have the lowest rates of anxiety and depression.

Instead, they found that affluent neighbourhoods – and the affluence of their school – were more strongly linked to young people’s mental health.

Characteristics of Affluent Neighbourhoods

According to one study, boys in the most affluent neighbourhoods were more than twice as likely to report delinquency as those in middle-class neighbourhoods, and girls were two to three times more likely to report high levels of anxiety and depression. Other research has found lower rates of substance abuse in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Researchers think that these links may be in part explained by certain characteristics of affluent neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods can have a big influence on the way young people think and behave through their social norms and shared values.

Young people in affluent neighbourhoods often aim to find places in high-status schools or universities. This means that affluent neighbourhoods may give rise to a culture of competition with other young people who are all seeking a small number of places. Affluent neighbourhoods may also cultivate competition for social prestige and recognition from others.

When people are encouraged to compete with one another, it may prevent social cohesion among different members of the community. This may prevent structures and networks of mutual support that can look after young people and encourage mental well-being. It may also mean that neighbourhoods are less able to prevent harmful behaviours among young people.

The Impact of Affluence at School

Young people are deeply affected by their school environment. It’s a place where children and adolescents usually spend a large part of their daily life, form and maintain many friendships, learn social norms and develop their values.

Research suggests that the affluence of schoolmates may have a big impact on young people’s well-being and even be the most important force behind some of the neighbourhood effects on anxiety, depression, and low-level crime. 

A study on the relationship between the average income of young people’s families at a school and mental health concerns found that:

  • Girls in more affluent schools were more likely to use drugs and take part in property crime (although they were less likely to be involved in violent crime)
  • Boys in more affluent schools were more likely to engage in intoxication and property crime (but less likely to be involved in violent crime)

On the other hand, the study found that young people in more affluent schools were less likely to develop anxiety and depression than those in low-income schools. Moreover, while boys were more likely to engage in intoxication in affluent schools, the frequency of engagement was higher in low-income schools.

What Mental Health Support is Available for Young People?

Mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and conduct disorders can seriously affect a young person’s well-being, quality of life, and outlook for the future. Mental health symptoms affect relationships with friends, family environments, and academic performance.

However, mental health disorders are treatable and with the right support, young people can recover and look towards a fulfilling future.

Mental health treatment looks different for every disorder and every individual. Psychotherapy usually makes up the core of a treatment program, but it can also include medication, mind-body therapies, social work, psychoeducation, and other treatment approaches.

Treatment can also take place at various levels of care. Young people at the highest risk may require inpatient treatment to ensure their safety at all times. Inpatient or residential care can also offer a supported environment away from the stresses, distractions, and harmful patterns of daily life where young people have the space to reconnect and rebuild.

Other young people may benefit from outpatient care, where they continue to live at home while attending treatment. Outpatient treatment may involve weekly appointments, intensive day sessions, or something in between.

In recent years, mental health support at schools has improved drastically. Many schools, including international schools, now offer exceptional counselling and pastoral care. This support system can play a key role in helping young people manage and recover from mental illness.

However, sometimes schools are not equipped to handle more complex or severe cases. In these situations, it may be best for a young person to take time out from school to receive the specialist support they need.

The Wave Clinic: Specialist Mental Health Support for Young People

The Wave Clinic is a residential treatment space dedicated to adolescents and young adults. We aim to build life advantage among young people, supporting them to develop the skills they need to live fulfiling futures.

Our whole-person approach combines clinical care with education, community responsibility, and an international gap year experience. We support young people to develop a secure sense of self, belonging, and direction, cultivating resilience and stability for the future.

We offer private mental health treatment based on the latest scientific evidence and delivered by experts from around the world. Guided by our values of fairness and inclusivity, we strive to ensure every young person receives the life-changing treatment they deserve.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our programs, get in touch today. We make a difference in the lives of young people.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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