STRESS. A term we all use and something we experience often, but what do we really know about the pressure on adolescents and the stress this puts them under today? Furthermore, how do they cope with this stress and is this a healthy approach to coping with the pressures they are faced daily?
Local and International Statistics of Stress in Adolescence.
An article published by the Belfast Telegraph has reported stress related illnesses have dramatically increased among teenagers aged 12-18 within the last 12 months. A study of 1,000 teenagers conducted by the National Citizen Service (NCS) found that a staggering 88% said they had experienced symptoms of stress such as insomnia, eating disorders, depression, aggressive behaviour towards family and friends, and anxiety.
Similarly, an article published by TIME Health reported depression and anxiety in teenagers aged between 12-16 are gravely increasing. The article reported that 28% of teenagers were experiencing symptoms such as nail biting, 21% found teens isolating themselves from family and friends, 20% reported disrupted sleep patterns, and 15% said they felt ill or unwell.
Daily Mail Online reported that 16% of teenagers recalled lashing out or falling out with friends and family and 16% said they ate less than usual. Furthermore, a concerning 38% reported feeling signs of depression and anxiety, and the same number said they often felt hopeless and there was no way to escape the stress. The most common symptom of stress reported by teens were stomach upsets and/or headaches which led to difficulty concentrating and frequent mood swings.
As you can see from these statistics the symptoms of stress which teenagers are experiencing can be severe and this is concerning not only for their physical health but also their mental health, particularly if they cannot deal with stress in a healthy way. From these findings, there therefore is clear evidence to suggest that stress in adolescents is dramatically on the increase, but why? What exactly is causing these symptoms of stress in teens to increase?
The Causes of Stress.
It has been repeatedly found that severe stress is usually not caused by a single factor but by multiple factors happening at the same time in a person’s life. When stress from multiple factors build up, this is when the symptoms of stress become more severe. It is important to note that the causes of stress for adults can be completely different for the causes of stress in teenagers. However, even though adults seem to have more responsibilities which can create stress, it is vital that we realise stress is just as common and real for teenagers also.
A study conducted by Young Minds Mental Health in a UK based school at the start of academic year 2017 found that one of the most common causes of stress in adolescence is education. The study found studying and doing well at school triggered stress in 81% of teenagers while making decisions about their future unsettled 35% of teenagers. Lucie Russell a campaign director at Young Minds Mental Health said: “We should not underestimate the huge amount of pressure young people are facing, especially at this time of year which brings the uncertainties that come with a new academic year.”
Another study which explored the causes of teen stress conducted by Teen Help UK found that arguing with friends was a major cause of stress for 30% of teenagers while family disputes creates stress for 29%. The other causes of stress which the study found included 20% of teenagers reporting trying to find a boyfriend or girlfriend impacted on their stress levels and trying to look good on social media apps was stressful for 15% of teens.
Recently, a major concern for teenagers is avoiding bullying as 12% of teens reported bullying was extremely stressful for them. Financial worries was also reported as a stressor for teenagers as young as 11 years of age. A spokesperson for Teen Help UK said, “Not only has social media added new complexities to their daily lives but looming, uncertain futures just add to this stress…we need to ensure young people are equipped with the skills to deal with these pressures and to navigate positive paths into adulthood.”
So, the important question is how are teenagers coping with stress considering the statistics previously discussed and the common life events which they go through?
Coping with the Stress.
In recent years, schools based in the UK have attempted to increase awareness of teenage stress and have created programmes to educate teens on daily pressures and how to cope with them. This is because extensive research has found that teens are not coping with stress in a healthy way and therefore symptoms of stress actually become worse and can lead to bigger mental health problems both short term and long term. A principal of a UK based school said, “We are promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools so children can thrive both inside and out the classroom.” Even though the effort which schools are putting in to educating teenagers on stress, this does not seem to be enough in terms of statistics.
Other ways in which teenagers are coping negatively with stress is by taking illegal drugs, drinking alcohol, and/or other anti-social behaviours such as street violence. Rather than talking to their parents, teenagers prefer to distract themselves from the pressure they are under by taking part in these behaviours which may have devastating consequences. Is it because teenagers are not educated enough on the healthy ways of coping with stress such as exercise and healthy diet? Or is it simply because they are less mature and are therefore unable to cope with the stress appropriately?
It is clear that teenagers are under a lot of pressure due to multiple factors, but most importantly this stress in teens is increasing and will continue to increase if there are not better options for coping with stress offered for them. Stress, a term we all use and something we experience often, but stress is something we need to be more aware of especially in teenagers who may not know the correct ways of dealing with it.
By Amber McClean.