ONE-in-five 15-year-olds in Ireland is struggling with a mental health issue, which may involve suicidal thoughts, a major new survey reveals.
But many troubled teenagers are not seeking or getting the necessary help. Parents are overwhelmingly the most common form of support for students, the study found, but not all teenagers share concerns with them.
And troubled teens don’t make much use of helplines or access websites, such as those provided by youth organisations, which offer guidance. The study, by child psychologists at Dublin’s Mater Hospital, examined levels of emotional distress, mental health literacy, coping skills and attitudes to help-seeking among 1,500 15-year-olds.
One of its key, preliminary findings is that those with high stress levels to begin with, benefit relatively more from interventions designed to help their coping skills. Now the Mater team has launched a programme for use in Social Personal and Health Education classes in schools.
Using DVDs, it is based on stories of young people who presented to the Mater’s child and adolescent mental health services clinic, with emotional issues like bullying, family conflict, eating disorders and suicide ideation. Their experiences form the content of the programme, which features the young people speaking candidly about their most successful coping strategies. Initially tested in 17 schools, the programme is now being made more widely available. Clinical psychologist Mike Power said it was designed to be used in schools to help students to confront issues that may be causing them stress.
He said clinicians were reporting higher levels of eating disorders, body image problems, self-harming, alcoholism and substance abuse among teenagers. “School is a very important part of the social mix young people are exposed to and teachers are at the frontline in confronting these and other mental health issues,” he said.
Mr Power said that both theoretically, and financially, it made sense to try and address pupils’ emotional problems at the earliest possible stage. “Left untreated, emotional problems gain force and expand to negatively encompass many significant aspects of a child’s thinking, feelings and behaviour,” he said.
The data from the study provides a fascinating insight into how teenagers today cope with life and the problems they face. While analysis of this data is still in the early stages, some broad trends are clear. While youngsters tend to reach out to parents with their personal problems, the influence of the peer group, especially for girls, is huge. Some students resist confiding in their parents because they don’t want to “worry them”.
Despite the plethora of youth mental help agencies, teenagers tended not to use them due to lack of awareness, misinformation or embarrassment. The Mater study also found high levels of emotional resiliency, positivity and hope among teenagers with issues.
– Katherine Donnelly