Adolescent mental well-being declined in many European countries between 2014 and 2018, according to a new report.
The report published on Tuesday by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Europe also revealed that sleep difficulties among European youths are on the rise and there is an increase in social and emotional difficulties such as feeling low and feeling nervous.
The study titled 'International Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC)' and led by the University of Glasgow and University of St Andrews examined data on the health behaviours, social relationships and mental well-being of 227,441 schoolchildren from 44 European countries, including the UK, and Canada.
The study noted that adolescent mental well-being declined in many of these 45 countries between 2014 and 2018.
"It is worrying to see that adolescents are telling us that all is not well with their mental well-being, and we must take this message seriously, as good mental health is an essential part of healthy adolescence," said lead author of the study Dr Jo Inchley from the University of Glasgow.
Besides mental health and wellbeing, the study covered areas such as sleep habits, time spent online and physical activity, as well as school and home life.
Young people from England, Scotland and Wales came in the top third of countries for sleep difficulties and problematic social media use. They are also among the worst to suffer from school pressure.
"Although many young people in Scotland, Wales and England are generally satisfied with their lives and are less likely to be drinking and smoking or consuming sugary snacks...this study highlights a number of areas of concern. Sleep difficulties are on the rise, and we are also seeing an increase in social and emotional difficulties such as feeling low and feeling nervous," Inchley said.
School-related stress is particularly high among 15-year old girls across the UK, with three-quarters reporting high levels of pressure from schoolwork, the report noted.
"Compared with other countries, young people in the UK are also more likely to think they are too fat. These issues particularly affect older adolescents and young people from poorer backgrounds," Inchley said.
The report also highlighted the importance of digital technology in the lives of young people today, with two-thirds of 15-year olds reporting that they communicate online with friends and others almost all the time throughout the day.
Preference for online communication and levels of problematic social media use are particularly high in the UK, the study noted.
Fiona Brooks, Principal Investigator for HBSC England, said, "Young people in the UK spend much more time on social media than comparable peers across Europe. Social media can offer an array of positive prosocial benefits, however, excessive use is problematic and warrants attention. Regularly spending too many hours on social media is associated with lower life satisfaction, poorer sleep and lower attainment at school."
According to the report, mental well-being declines as children grow older, with girls particularly at risk of having poor mental well-being outcomes compared to boys.
Across the 45 countries in the report, one in four adolescents report feeling nervous, feeling irritable or having difficulties getting to sleep at least once a week.
In around a third of countries, the report revealed a rise in adolescents feeling pressured by schoolwork. In most countries, school experience worsens with age, with school satisfaction and adolescents' perception of support from classmates declining as schoolwork pressure increases.
"That increasing numbers of boys and girls across the European Region are reporting poor mental health feeling low, nervous or irritable is a concern for us all," said Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.
"How we respond to this growing problem will echo for generations," he said.
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