Youth problems in Sweden

Olga, Jonas & Jacob, FOXPOPULI, Sweden

You probably know that Sweden is a Scandinavian country in Europe. What you may not know, the standard of living in Sweden is extremely good. Given that, many would not say that one of the main problems in young people are mental problems.

All children and young people are a huge resource. In the Nordic countries it’s considered that there have never been more educated and competent youth as is the case today. At the same time there are all the more young persons who claim to be suffering from mental illness, and young persons who, for various reasons, risk ending up in vulnerable situations. Growing mental illness amongst young people is one of the most serious public health challenges facing Nordic society.

In Sweden, an increase in mental health problems has been reported among children, young people and young adults and there is currently no clear explanation why. Mental health problems are increasing across the entire group, affecting not just the most vulnerable children and young people who experience stressful psychosocial factors such as the mental illness of a parent. It is uncertain how serious this increase in young people’s mental health problems is. Surveys of living conditions carried out by Statistics Sweden show an increase in young people’s self reported mental health problems, but it is unclear whether such problems are correlated with serious mental health problems later in life. At the same time, the number of young people who need hospital treatment for a mental health disorder has increased.

In 2016, 33,500 men and 46,000 women in the 18-24 age group needed some form of psychiatric treatment or prescription psychopharmaceuticals, i.e. medication used for the treatment of mental health disorders. The figures are taken from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register and patient registers, and were included in the National Board of Health and Welfare report, ‘Mental Health Among Young People’ (2013). The psychiatric treatment referred to here concerns both polyclinical outpatient treatment and inpatient treatment where the patient is admitted.

Alma (29) from Askersund shared part of her experience for the Swedish newspaper “Dalabygden”.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. In fact, I thought I had cancer, so my brother took me to a private clinic for a systematic examination. They told me I was 100% healthy. But on the way out, one nurse whispered to me, “Ma’am, you need a priest.” For some reason, she realized that I was a believer and that talking to a priest might help me. However, I did not go to the priest, but to the family doctor, who – after an hour and a half of sitting with her and staring at one point – sent me to a psychiatrist. That’s how I came to prof. Alice Olsson, who immediately understood what it was about – in my opinion, trembling hands, trembling legs … I came to her hospital for seven days, received therapy by infusion, returned home and – slept. In those seven days, I made up for three months of sleep deprivation. I was like a robot: I would get up, eat, lie down again and fall asleep. On the eighth day, I will never forget, I woke up – healthy. It was as if some devil had come out of me. That day, for the first time in a long time, I put on make-up, cooked lunch for the children and went to visit my mother and father “, says Ruža Filić, who accepted her illness and learned to live with it.

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has been assigned to build and develop the work aiming to promote mental health and prevent mental ill-health among the entire population at a national level. An important part of this work is to compile, analyse and convey new knowledge within the area. This is conducted, for example, in the form of a national public health survey “Health on equal terms” which the Agency has performed annually since 2004. Another example of how new knowledge is developed is when we compile different types of literature reviews within the mental health area.

The Government of Sweden has invested special funds for this type of problem. Currently, there is no official data on how much the Swedes have managed to reduce the biggest problem of their young population.