A recent study (Lereya, Patalay & Deighton, 2022) highlights the association between mental health difficulties and wellbeing across the adolescent populations, focusing on predictors of mental health difficulties and subjective or self-reported well-being.
The data was collected from a community-based self-report survey of 13,500 adolescents in year 7 (aged 11–12) and year 8 (aged 12–13). They completed annual surveys (The Wellbeing Measurement Framework, WMF) on emotional strengths and skills, support networks, mental health difficulties and wellbeing.
A longitudinal study on the predictors of mental health difficulties and subjective well-being in adolescents
Three key areas in year 7 were investigated and used to predict child-reported mental health difficulties and subjective well-being in Year 8:
1) child and family sociodemographic factors: sex, ethnicity, child in need status, free school meals and SEN eligibility.
2) emotional strengths and skills: Problem solving skills, goals & aspirations, and empathy, prosocial behaviour, emotion regulation and perceived stress.
3) support networks: Family connection, school connection, peer support, community connection, participation in community life and participation in home and school life.
The results showed that, from the child and family demographic factors:
- Being a boy was associated with lower mental health difficulties and higher subjective wellbeing across all the models.
- Being Asian or being Black, compared to being White, was associated with fewer mental health difficulties and better subjective wellbeing in the current study.
- Free school meal (FSM) eligibility, which is linked to low income, was associated with higher mental health difficulties and lower subjective wellbeing across all models.
From the emotional strengths and skills areas:
- Goals and aspirations and high problem-solving skills were associated with low mental health difficulties and higher subjective wellbeing in the current analyses.
- Emotion regulation has been linked with both mental health difficulties and subjective wellbeing.
- Perceived stress has been associated with both mental health difficulties and wellbeing.
- High empathy was only associated with higher mental health difficulties.
- High prosocial behaviour was only associated with high subjective wellbeing.
From the factors associated with support networks:
- Only family connection was associated with both mental health difficulties and wellbeing in the current study.
- Having someone who cares about the individual, listens, and believes in them was associated with lower mental health difficulties.
- High levels of peer support, community connection, participation in community life, and participation in home and school life only predicted high subjective wellbeing, not mental health problems.
The findings showed a moderate association between mental health difficulties and subjective wellbeing at year 8 (aged 12–13).
What can schools and colleges do to help improve children and young people's well-being post pandemic?
Schools and colleges are on the frontline when it comes to supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing and the ongoing impact of the pandemic has emphasised the importance of promoting positive mental health in schools and colleges. They have an important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils and students by developing approaches tailored to the particular needs of their pupils and students.
Schools and colleges need qualified, education-focused mental-health professionals as part of the staff team.
School mental health specialists will know first hand the needs of their students and can, through training, development and supervision, match these to the culture and processes within the school.
It’s time to focus on strengthening resources, knowledge, and skills, through engagement with schools and colleges to support our children and young people’s mental health and well-being.
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References and further reading
Lereya, S. T., Patalay, P., & Deighton, J. (2022). Predictors of mental health difficulties and subjective wellbeing in adolescents: A longitudinal study. JCPP Advances, 2(2), e12074. https://doi.org/10.1002/jcv2.12074, accessed 1st November 2022.