More girls than boys experienced mental pressure

More girls than boys experienced mental pressure, and the latest Young Life and Times survey report also reveals that exams are a greater cause of teenage stress than bullying.

Ed Cairns, a psychology professor at the University of Ulster, says the research, which forms part of the 2004 Young Life and Times Survey, is a warning signal about the growing incidence of mental health problems among young people.

The survey was completed by 824 respondents across Northern Ireland last year. A joint project of the University of Ulster and Queen's University, Belfast, the Young Life and Times Survey is conducted annually, and records attitudes and experiences among the province's 16-year-olds. The research is funded under the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

The latest findings echo a trend identified by policymakers, researchers and practitioners throughout the province which shows a growing number of young people developing mental health problems.

Key findings include

  • 24% of sixteen year olds reported high levels of 'psychological distress'.
  • Significantly more females (30%) than males (16%) were psychologically distressed.
  • There were no major religious differences, with 22% of Protestants and 25% of Catholics falling into the psychologically distressed category.
  • 47% of males compared with only 25% of females said they 'rarely' or 'never' got stressed.
  • 75% of respondents said that they had felt pressured by schoolwork at least sometimes; with over one quarter saying this happened 'often' or 'always'.
  • Young women at grammar schools were more likely to say they were 'always' or 'often' pressured at school, compared to those at secondary schools.
  • Only 13% of young people reported that they were bullied at school
  • More than twice as many young men who reported having been bullied at school 'always' or 'often' could be classified as psychologically distressed as those who responded 'sometimes' 'rarely' or never'.

Experts say that evidence suggests that in 1983-2001, suicide rates have been highest among those aged between 16 and 34 years.

"Despite these obvious pointers about the importance of mental health among young adults, this group has been largely neglected in terms of actual research," said Professor Ed Cairns, of the University of Ulster's School of Psychology .

"This is an important piece of research which we hope will raise awareness about what is an important but largely neglected problem facing our society - and one which research suggests is likely to get worse - not better," he added.

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