One in 10 young people believed life was not worth living or was meaningless, according to an "alarming" new report today.
A survey of 16- to 25-year-olds by the Prince's Trust found a "significant core" for whom life had little or no purpose, especially among those not in education, work or training.
The poll of over 2,000 showed that more than a quarter felt depressed and were less happy than when they were younger.
Almost half said they were regularly stressed and many did not have anything to look forward to or someone they could talk to about their problems.
The trust, which aims to help vulnerable young people, said its study revealed an increasingly vulnerable generation.
Chief executive Martina Milburn said: "Young people tell us that family is key to their happiness, yet too often we find they don't have this crucial support."
The survey, described as the first large scale study of its kind, showed that young people who had left school but did not have a job or a place on a training course, were twice as likely to feel that their life had no purpose.
Relationships with family and friends were found to be the key to levels of happiness, although health, money and work were also important.
Paul Brow, director of communications at the Prince's Trust, said the study showed there were thousands of young people who "desperately" needed support.
"Often, young people who feel they have reached rock bottom don't know where to turn for help."
Ross Hendry, head of public policy at Action for Children, said the report highlighted "serious issues" which must be tackled.
"Otherwise, we risk allowing a generation of vulnerable children to be lost to anger, depression and subsequent mental health problems," he said.
"Our own research shows that young people often feel confused, frustrated and misrepresented when they are not empowered to play a positive part in society.
"Children must be given the chance to speak out, be heard and participate in setting the political agenda about issues affecting their lives, if we are to build stronger, safer and more inclusive communities."
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "In a survey of 110,000 pupils last year 93 per cent of children said that they felt happy about life. But we know childhood isn't good for every child and we will continue to focus on the problems that exist for some."
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