Helping young adults develop healthy coping mechanisms for life transitions

For World Mental Health Day 2018, ASH Scotland reflects on the recently launched #befreeachievemore campaign (www.befree.scot) which promotes that young adults aged 16–24 will be happier, fitter, better off and achieving more if they are smoke-free (find out more here).

We know young adults growing up in more disadvantaged communities are less likely to have clear career paths when they leave school than those from the least deprived areas. It is understandable that those who play a key role in guiding young adults through this period focus on issues which affect a young person’s ability to engage, such as low educational attainment, mental health or financial hardship. However any consideration of the overall attainment, well-being and life outcomes of young adults must include that smoking rates are highest amongst young adults not in education, employment or training (41%) compared to those in work (24%) or fulltime education (13%).

Developing the #befreeachievemore campaign with young adults helped us to understand what else is going on and why smoking might play a part in their lives.

The young adults told us about their goals for the next 12 months — passing exams, getting a job, saving for their driver’s license, buying a car, being a good parent, making new friends and going to college, to name a few. They also talked about the added pressure which came with greater responsibility and independence, worrying more about money and having a steady income.

While moving into new settings and having new experiences may be exciting for some, it can be an unsettling and challenging time for others, especially those already experiencing poor mental health. It’s fundamental that we acknowledge that young adults who are non-smokers are still at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine within this age group and developing unhealthy coping mechanisms through smoking.

Young adults who were already smokers talked about the hold smoking had on them, dictating the need for breaks, costing them a lot of their available money and describing smoking as a coping mechanism to help them feel calm at times of stress, when in fact often these feelings were more about withdrawal than a stressful situation.

What we do know is that stopping smoking is associated with reduced feelings of depression, anxiety and improved positive mood and quality of life. We want all young adults to live well and see the benefit of being smoke-free and being happier, fitter and better off.

Go to www.befree.scot for more information, top tips, free resources and eLearning.