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2014-12-09

Researchers want to strengthen children's mental health

More and more teenagers say they have psychosomatic disorders, according to a new survey by the Public Health Agency of Sweden. Among 15-year-old girls, the proportion is twice as high now compared to 20 years ago. Researchers from Halmstad University are included in the Public Health Agency’s Expert Group and also operate two interdisciplinary research projects with the aim of strengthening teenagers' mental health.

Researchers work together with children to develop resources for managing the stress that students feel concerning school work. Photo: ANDERS ANDERSSON

Psychosomatic disorders among young people in Sweden are on the increase. The number of students with self-reported psychological and somatic symptoms, such as headaches and depression, is increasing. This is shown through recent results from the Public Health Agency's survey: Skolbarns hälsovanor (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children) that is carried out every fourth year. Jens Nygren is a  researcher of medical science at Halmstad University and a member of the research team working on the survey:

– More and more young people say they have several different psychosomatic symptoms of illness, such as anxiety, stomach pains, headaches and insomnia; often caused by school related stress. The increase is high among both boys and girls in the ages between 13 and 15. However, it is important to emphasise that mental health in Sweden is generally good among both boys and girls; viewed over time and in international comparison, he says.

Resources for less school stress to be tested in 2015

Since 2012, researchers at Halmstad University, with the support of Halmstad Municipality, have worked to develop various initiatives to strengthen young people's mental health by managing the stress that students feel concerning school work.

– This is a very exciting project where we work with young people to develop digital services for planning, dialogue and support. We will test these resources in schools in Halmstad in 2015, says Jens Nygren.

Youth unemployment worries school children

The survey Skolbarns hälsovanor shows that both stress of school and concerns about high youth unemployment are contributing factors to the increase in mental disorders among young people. In order to address children's concerns regarding their future work situation, the research team at Halmstad University are also working with another project: together with the municipalities of Falkenberg and Åstorp, they examine young people's attitudes and approach to education – both in upper secondary schools and higher education. The results show that many young people are stressed and frustrated when it comes to their choice of further education. This is related to a lack of knowledge about the education system and how the various education programmes creates opportunities for future employment. The research project aims to develop, together with the students, improvement of the two municipality’s study- and careers guidance. Sara Högdin is a lecturer in social work at Halmstad University and coordinator of the interdisciplinary project.

– Many young people express a great concern of choosing the wrong education and want more support from teachers and study- and careers officers when faced with the choice of upper secondary education. They are also requesting contact with other adults to help discuss their future; in particular in connection with the importance of higher education and orientation regarding employment, says Sara Högdin.

Text: JENS NYGREN and LOUISE WANDEL

About the stress management project

Commissioned by the Child and Youth Administration and with the support of the municipal, the Ljungbergs Foundation and Insurance company Länsförsäkringar Halland, the project group at Halmstad University has worked with, together with youngsters aged 12-17, identifying what is perceived as the major challenge in relation to young people's mental health, and how young people can be supported in order to address this challenge; both at home and in school. The aim is therefore focused on efforts to help manage young people's perceived difficulties to balance the expectations and requirements expected of them. Over 1,000 young people and others involved in the school-world have participated in survey studies, interviews and workshops with the aim to jointly develop and evaluate one or more actions designed to promote children's mental health in Halmstad. The project is presented in the report: Halmstadprojekt - Kartläggning, samverkan och analys för utveckling av en deltagarstyrd intervention för att främja barns psykiska hälsa (link to article in Swedish)external link as well as a number of scientific articles that are the base of several student and thesis work (PhD student, Marie Wilhsson, PhD student, Katrin Hutton and Masters student Sofia Persson).

Contact: Jens Nygrenexternal link

Project concerning an improved study- and careers guidance

Education Statistics show that significantly fewer young people in the municipalities of Falkenberg and Åstorps proceed with higher education compared to the national average. There are even fewer young people who finish their upper secondary school education compared to the rest of the country. Commissioned by the municipalities, the project group has investigated the reasons for the relatively low level of education and has suggested strategies for improving education levels in the municipalities. The studies include a questionnaire and answer sheet from a total of nearly 1,000 youngsters, as well as from teachers, study and careers officers, employment officers, parents and from industry and commerce. The results have recently been presented in two reports: Strategier för höjd utbildningsnivå: Slutrapport från en studie i Falkenbergs kommun (link to article in Swedish)external link och Strategier för höjd utbildningsnivå: En studie bland unga i Åstorps kommun (link to article in Swedish).external link

Contact: Sara Högdinexternal link

Jens Nygren is a researcher of medical science at Halmstad University and a member of the research team working on the survey Skolbarns hälsovanor. Photo: JOACHIM BRINK

About Skolbarns hälsovanor (Health Behavior in School-aged Children)

Skolbarns hälsovanor is an international study conducted every fourth year and is coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 42 countries participated in this year´s survey. Sweden has participated in the survey eight times since 1985. The purpose of the survey is to increase knowledge regarding the living habits and conditions that are considered essential for both children´s and youngster´s health. The survey monitors progress over a certain length of time and compares them with children and young people in the other participating countries. The results that are now presented are based on a survey conducted during the spring term of 2014. Almost 8,000 students, from approximately 400 schools across the country, participated and the response rate was 79 percent. Students could answer anonymously to questions relating to several areas of health, health behaviours and environments that in different ways influence how children and young people feel. One conclusion from the previous survey conducted 2009/2010, was that mental problems had levelled out after continually increasing since the mid-1980s. However, the 2014 survey shows an increase in such problems; particularly for girls aged 13 to 15.

Updated 2018-02-23