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Young people’s wellbeing
Young people’s wellbeing

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1 Young people’s health: media coverage

The focus of this course is young people's health and wellbeing, a topic that has received much attention from commentators and policy makers in recent years.

Specifically, the course will set out to answer the following core questions:

  • How has young people's health been constructed in public and policy discourse in recent years, and what are the implications for young people and those who work with them/support them?

  • What might an alternative, critical framework for understanding young people's wellbeing look like?

  • How is young people's wellbeing shaped by diversity and inequality?

  • What are the implications of a critical approach for promoting young people's wellbeing?

You will begin by looking at two newspaper stories that are fairly typical of recent media coverage.

Activity 1 Stories about young people's health

Timing: 0 hours 20 minutes

Below are two extracts from newspaper articles. Read through them and make notes about the kinds of issues they are concerned with and the general picture they present of the current state of young people's health.

About 7% of children have attempted suicide by the age of 17 and almost one in four say they have self-harmed in the past year, according to a paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry, and experts say the figures could rise as a result of the [COVID-19] pandemic.

The figures come from analysis of the millennium cohort study, which follows the lives of about 19,000 young people born at the start of the millennium in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report says that when the 17-year-olds from the cohort were asked if they had ever hurt themselves “on purpose in an attempt to end your life”, 7% replied yes. When asked if they had self-harmed during the previous year, 24% responded that they had.

(Marsh, 2021)

Eating disorder deaths need to be recorded on a national register, MPs are urging, as experts warn of an underreported “crisis” in the growing number of people in the UK experiencing life-threatening disorders.

While Office for National Statistics figures show 36 people died in 2019 from conditions such as anorexia, there are concerns this underestimates the true toll. A high-level US study gives estimated data on death rates that when transposed to the UK indicates that the annual death rate could be about 1,860 people a year.

MPs from across the political spectrum are calling for better research and data collection on conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. Data analysis by the Guardian shows there is also a hidden epidemic among men and growing waiting times for children and young people seeking help.

(Marsh, 2021)


These two stories are concerned with issues around mental health. The general picture they present is one of a decline in young people's mental wellbeing, and their mood is generally pessimistic.

These extracts are fairly typical of recent media discussion of young people's wellbeing. Recent years have seen a succession of minor moral panics about the health-related behaviour of teenagers. As in these extracts, the concerns in recent years have been focused on young people’s mental health and the factors that affect their mental health, giving a sense of an accumulation of overlapping problems afflicting young people today. However, it is possible to identify several key images that recur in recent media coverage and public discussion of young people's health. You will look at these next.