Published: 20th September 2021

Teens’ three biggest mental health concerns revealed by new BBFC research

  • Anxiety, stress and depression are the three biggest mental health concerns for teens

  • Teens say positive portrayals of mental health conditions on-screen help them understand mental health issues, and encourage them to talk about issues

  • Young people say content warnings are important to protect younger siblings and their own mental health

  • BBFC has launched new Key Stage 4 PSHE resource for 14-16-year-olds, focusing on mental health and choosing content well

Today, new research by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has revealed the three biggest mental health concerns for teens are anxiety, stress and depression, with two thirds (64%) of 13-18-year-olds saying they want appropriate warnings on all films and TV shows featuring this content. 

The research, by YouGov, showed that anxiety (50%), stress (38%) and depression (34%) were the issues that most concerned young people, followed by body image issues (30%), suicide (20%) and self-harm (20%). 

Nearly seven in 10 teens (68%) say that seeing positive portrayals of mental health conditions on-screen breaks down stigma, and half (48%) said that seeing these depictions helps them understand issues around mental health.

It’s clear that seeing mental health issues on screen can act as a bridge to open up discussions, with three quarters (75%) saying that positive portrayals can act as a springboard to get help. In fact, teens said that a scene in a film or TV show has even prompted them to talk to their friends (41%) or parents (39%) about mental health. 

Two thirds (64%) of teens say they think content warnings are important, with young people going on to say that they help them protect their own mental health (40%), make informed decisions about what to watch (51%) and protect their younger siblings (23%) and friends (38%).

Eight in ten (78%) 13-18-year-olds think the media industry has an important role to play in showing mental health issues responsibly. 

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “Films and TV shows have a very important role to play, with content often acting as a bridge for teens to explore their own mental health. That’s why the BBFC’s role is more important than ever. We’re here to give teens what they tell us they want, and need - easy to understand age ratings and content warnings, that are based on extensive research into the feelings and reactions of UK audiences, and reflect what people really think - so they can navigate their own experiences, and start talking about them with their friends and younger siblings.

“It’s very clear that concerns around what harms young people have moved on significantly. In 2021, teens are concerned about mental health, and how this can impact young people emotionally. For teens' emotional wellbeing and development, clear content warnings need to be displayed on all films and TV shows, whether that's in the cinema, on Blu-ray and DVD or on streaming services. We are calling on all streaming services to follow in Netflix’s footsteps and carry trusted, well-known BBFC ratings and ratings info on 100% of content.” 

Lucy, BBFC Youth Panel member, said: “Mental health in the media has a huge impact on today’s youth and can easily affect how we view people’s situations and experiences. Through good and accurate representation, we can become more empathetic to those struggling, or know better ways to help them. It can also improve our own mental health through seeing people with similar problems with positive role models and viewing uplifting content.”

The BBFC has today released a new PSHE Key Stage 4 resource. Aimed at 14-16-year-olds, the educational resource explores the factors that can affect viewing choices and the influence film can have on attitudes, perceptions and behaviour, how media content can affect wellbeing and how on-screen representations of mental health affect people’s perceptions. The lesson plans also include a video of the BBFC Youth Panel discussing the portrayal of mental health in film and media and what it means to them.

Bethan Miller, PSHE Association Subject Specialist, said: “We’re delighted to launch this new PSHE resource for Key Stage 4 in partnership with the BBFC. These lessons will help students to think critically about the impact films and TV shows can have on mental health, support them to make decisions about what content to watch, and consider the factors that may affect these choices.”

David Austin added: “Film and TV is clearly seen by the younger generation as a useful tool to start talking and learning about issues. It’s important for young people to understand how the choices they make can affect their own mental health and development, which is why we’re delighted to launch our brand new Key Stage 4 PSHE resource for 14-16-year-olds. These lesson plans will play an important part in opening doors to these conversations.” 

Further research by the BBFC showed that 97% of people say they benefit from age ratings being in place. 91% of people - and 95% of teenagers - want consistent age ratings that they recognise from the cinema and DVD to apply to content accessed through streaming services.

Both boys and girls said that anxiety was their top concern, with two-thirds of girls saying they worried about this condition (62%). 

Download the Key Stage 4 PSHE resource.