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Another month, another report about how young people are unhappier than ever before. This time, the annual report by the Children’s Society focused on how teenage girls are experiencing unprecedented levels of unhappiness.  The report showed that one in three are unhappy with the way they look and that one in seven girls are unhappy with their lives overall.  Social media use is thought to play a key role in this rise (see “V is for Vanity”).

The 2015 Children’s Society report also highlighted some extremely worrying statistics.  Children in England were found to be among the unhappiest in the world.  The experiences of 15 countries were examined, and the happiness of children in England was ranked fourteenth, just above South Korea but behind Romania and Ethiopia. 

Just because Scotland was not included in the research of the Children’s Society does not mean that Scottish youths are somehow free from mental health problems.  Other research indicates that one in ten children and young people in the United Kingdom suffer from a mental health difficulty that affects their home life, school life, or relationships on a day to day basis.  The NSPCC reported that Childline received 934 calls from young people in Scotland contemplating suicide in the last year alone.  That’s an average of 18 calls per week; a terrifying statistic and one that policymakers ought to be addressing.

Moves have been made to start tackling this issue.  There are a number of early years initiatives which focus on the emotional development of infants to ensure that they are well-prepared for primary school.  The Curriculum for Excellence places health and wellbeing as a central component of the syllabus throughout a child’s time in school (both preschool, primary and secondary).  There are other schemes, such as “Bounce”, “Roots of Empathy” and “Seasons for Growth” that aim to develop emotional literacy and resilience in young people.   Unfortunately, for all the solutions that successive governments have come up with for addressing mental health issues in childhood and adolescence, the statistics continue to show an increase in reported problems and the cash-strapped mental health services are struggling to keep up.  Perhaps the time has come for policymakers to stop trying to “fix” the young people and instead focus their attention on the factors that create unhappiness or anxiety in young people.

Young people are under a huge amount of pressure.  The expectations placed on them to achieve in school and the societal pressures to conform (which may or may not be at odds with pressures within the young person’s peer group) can seem, at times, quite a load for them to bear.  Combine these pressures with the surge of hormones in their adolescent years that can leave them in that uncomfortable hinterland between child and adult and it is no wonder that young people are unhappy.  As adults, the most important thing we can do is to appreciate the challenges that young people face and make ourselves available to listen to the needs of our children without judgement or condemnation.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy
Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
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