As parents and kids get settled into another new school term a Northern Ireland health company are warning of an ever-increasing problem amongst youths.
According to The Health & Wellbeing Co over three quarters of secondary school pupils in Northern Ireland are “stressed out”, a figure they describe as “staggering”.
From home life, general school life and social scenarios to attending family events and talking to teachers the latest survey of young people by the healthcare company found that 77% of the young people surveyed said they felt “stressed” at various times in their daily life.
The firm, which promotes a holistic approach to healthcare, also found that figures show that of the school pupils questioned a staggering three quarters (75%) were “stressed out” in school. Whilst 40% cited their home life to be stressful.
Other times when their stress levels spiked included when they are with their friends (18%), when in the company of strangers (25%), at family events (18%) and when talking to their teacher (15%).
With professionals widely accepting that around 80 per cent of all diseases having their origins in stress, The Health & Wellbeing Company are warning that more needs to be done to support young people.
“The statistics around stress are staggering” said practitioner Mary Jane Burns, adding: “75% to 80% of patients visiting their GP have an illness either caused by stress or where stress is a large factor.
Set up by Jimmy Smyth, Liz Elliott and Mary Jane The Health & Wellbeing Company combines a range of traditional and alternative therapies in order to meet the health and wellbeing needs of individuals, groups and companies.
Jimmy says that tackling stress in young people is vital in order to ensure they are fully equipped for adult life and to enter the workplace.
He added: “Not enough is being done to properly tackle the severity of the effects of stress on children and teenagers. As the most stressed-out generation, young adults receive little or no support whatsoever from our health service; in coping with high levels of stress.
“Much of what they experience is put down to ‘teenage angst’ instead of being dealt with properly and this can have a lasting effect on their personal and working life in adulthood.
“To many it would seem that health care professionals are not interested in helping teenagers and young people who are plagued by stress. They frequently refer to people suffering from stress and anxiety as ‘the worried well’ and openly claim that they are only interested in working with ‘the mentally ill’.
“Preventing stress in young people developing into mental illness is absolutely vital. It is imperative that cause is tackled long before they begin to have very serious and debilitating symptoms such as the stress resulting in a nervous breakdown or depression.”
But stress wasn’t the only worrying statistic to come out of The Health & Wellbeing Company’s recent survey.
Nearly three quarters (71%) of the young people surveyed reported feeling “down” in comparison to just 15% saying they “never feel down” and 13% regularly feeling the same way.
Jimmy said: “There is a huge difference between a young person having feelings of sadness and needing serious help. However, more often than not young people’s feelings are dismissed at home or at school.
“Little is being done to support teachers and staff in schools to not only deal with their own rising stress levels but those of their students. Teachers are crying out for help, but very little is being done.
“Every teacher in every school knows that stress and negative emotions are an enormous problem; not only for students but for the teachers themselves, yet the problem is, by and large, being ignored.” Despite the growth in social media and communication platforms in recent years another area of concern for young people is loneliness.
The survey by the Health & Wellbeing Company found that of the young people who responded 67% felt lonely “sometimes” and 8% felt lonely “regularly” whilst a quarter were lucky to have no feelings of loneliness.
But with loneliness comes isolation says Mary Jane. And while some young people may be naturally more comfortable in their own company, others do not, making it hard to know when to step in.
Mary Jane added: “Stress can feel overwhelming or just sneak up on us and we have a feeling of not coping. We often don’t want to talk about it as we are not even sure what is wrong or if anything is ‘really’ wrong at all, we are just ‘out of sorts’.
“For young people the inability and lack of preparation to deal with these problems can lead to extreme feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“Many adults have trouble expressing the turmoil of emotions, imagine how that is magnified in children and young people. For many the idea of even talking about it just makes it real and therefore they bury it further, rather than dealing with the problem.
“That’s when people begin to withdraw, especially young people, because they are fearful that someone will notice and make them talk about what is going on – the one thing they don’t want to do.
“It’s advisable to take time to notice the subtle difference in the way someone is behaving. For example, maybe the mood in which they answer questions, are they more angry than normal, quieter than before?
“Talking isn’t always the best option initially, sometimes just ‘being there’ is enough to help someone begin to make sense of what’s going on.
With more and more parents and young people contacting The Health & Wellbeing Company Liz said they are encouraged that action is being taken but warn that much more needs to be done to ensure the wellbeing of the workforce of the future.
She added: “Stress comes in differing levels, there is mild, moderate and severe stress, then you have burnout which can lead to chronic mental illness.
“Many issues faced by teenagers are heightened due to natural changes within their bodies and hormones. A situation that may be easily handled by an adult can often be more heightened for a teenager, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety.
“There are times when small amounts of stress can be a positive thing. There are times when the stress hormone can helps to keep us motivated and competitive.
“However, the problem is controlling our stress responses. When we get stress hormones being released into our bodies regularly our immune system slows down and disease in our bodies can’t flourish.
“Stress is best prevented or identified at a very early stage when it is easy to treat. We also must remember that individuals have different stress thresholds and this is why it is important to have individual stress assessments.”
So what is the solution?
According to Jimmy, he believes that parents, teachers, schools and community groups could look to complementary and talking therapies as a less intrusive way of ‘tapping in’ to young people and their problems.
He said that, just like adults, children also respond to the stigma of “needing help”.
“The question arises as to when a young person needs help, advice or support with the problems and stress in their life” explained Jimmy, adding: “This is a very difficult question to answer, as every young person is different and each of them may react in a completely different way to the stress in their lives.
“We can’t make rules that would accurately determine which young person needs help and which young person doesn’t.
“What we do need is a service or facility available to young people at all times. Something that becomes a part of their everyday life, rather than a fire-fighting solution.
“If the service is there and being used for other things such as using complementary health to tackle other health problems then the young people can easily access the service for mental health reasons when they feel they have a stress problem, before it gets out of control.
“They should not have to wait until they have developed a mental illness before they feel comfortable with asking for help.”