Here are five new findings about teenage mental health that you’ll find surprising

We all know there are a lot of pressures on teenagers that could lead them down the road of behavioral or even mental health issues. Such as pressure to perform well at school, pressure to conform from various friendship groups and pressure to fit in with their loving family at home when the rest of their lives can often feel like a whirlwind, just to name a few.

But the million-dollar question is: Have teenagers always been this way or are more of them experiencing issues with their behavior, emotions and wellbeing than ever before?

The short answer is: yes.

A new study from the Department of Education in the UK interviewed a cohort of Year 10 students in 2005 and another in 2014 to delve deep into exploring mental health trends, identifying mindset issues and looking into the things teens have found the most challenging in their lives so far.

The findings point to all kinds of fascinating conclusions, but one of the major ones is that overall mental wellbeing in this age group has worsened in nine years and evidence from elsewhere suggests this is not just confined to the UK.

Sure it’s easy to make a sweeping statement like that. But I wanted to pick apart the key findings from the study to understand why and I think you’ll find some of the new findings just as surprising, fascinating and concerning as I did.

1. Teens from advantaged backgrounds exhibited MORE signs of distress

One of the most interesting findings from the study suggested that young people from “relatively advantaged backgrounds” are actually more likely to exhibit signs of psychological distress than what the study perceived to be less advantaged families. What’s more, higher levels of parental education tended to lead to a higher incidence of psychological distress.

The report acknowledges these differences are small. Yet what this highlights is the danger of taking a broad-brush approach and assuming children and teens are fine if they’re from a certain family. When in actual fact, mental health issues can affect people from all backgrounds.

2. Girls are more likely to experience psychological distress than boys

The study also pointed to a definite increase in the split between girls and boys experiencing psychological distress. Between 2004 and 2015 more teenage girls reported experiencing mental health issues than their male counterparts.

The study added that as well as there being a marked difference in the experience between females and males, there was also a significant increase in the cases of psychological distress in single parent and step families, as well as those with long standing illness or disabilities.

3. Teens feel like they need to work harder than ever

Gone are the days of complaining about the work ethic of teenagers. According to the study, teens strongly equate hard work with success. This means they understand the value of working hard. But there’s a catch…

4. Teens feel they have less control over their destiny

There’s a concerning disconnect here. On the whole, teens believe hard work equals success. And yet many of them also believe their destiny is out of their own hands. This is known as ‘locus of control’. The study suggests teens have a much lower ‘locus of control’ than they used to, which means they don’t believe they actually have control over their futures or events that might effect them.

So the problem here is that teens believe they should be working harder than ever, but at the same time don’t believe that they can influence their own outcomes, which in turn leads to psychological distress.

5. It’s not all bad news: Engagement in risky behaviours has decreased and educational aspirations have increased

The report isn’t just full of bad news, it also highlights that between 2004 and 2015 incidences of truanting fell massively from 23 percent to 13 percent. Furthermore, the number of teens expecting to continue on to complete their A levels increased from 59 percent to 65 percent. And on the whole young people were less likely to engage in risky behaviors, like drinking, smoking, drugs and vandalism.

Overall this is positive. But you could theorize that although educational aspiration changes is a positive driver, it’s important to be wary that this added pressure could create troubles later down the line.

Key takeaways:

  • Mental health issues can affect children and teens from all backgrounds
  • Girls, single parent teens and those in step families are more likely to face challenges
  • Teens feel a huge pressure to work hard
  • Yet teens also feel more out of control when it comes to defining their own futures

Paul Howard is CEO and Founder of MyFampal, a technology company dedicated to improving family outcomes.

MyFampal has developed a service that helps parents take control of their family’s wellbeing. Think of it like an emotional fitness tracker for your family. We’d love you to try it out, for free by clicking this link: myfampal.com/myfampal-parent/

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