Teens face multiple mental-health issues, losing sleep due to stress
May 03, 2004
TORONTO (CP) - One in 10 teens is grappling with at least three mental-health issues, a finding that highlights the need for prevention strategies that address a wide range of problem behaviours, say the authors of a study released Monday.

"The youth themselves are reporting psychological distress, feeling under stress, having worries, having trouble sleeping at night," said Dr. Joseph Beitchman of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. "Some of these kids, as well, report problems with hazardous drinking, using substances and getting involved in delinquent kinds of behaviours."

Of the 6,616 Ontario students in Grades 7 through 12 surveyed in 2003, 38 per cent reported feeling constantly under stress, while 29 per cent were tossing and turning in their beds at night because of anxiety.

"Most adults that you speak to, I think, would be surprised to know that adolescents are losing sleep over their worries," said Beitchman. "I don't think that it's commonly appreciated that (adolescence) is as stressful as it is."

In addition to psychological distress, the survey examined three other mental-health indicators - drug use, excessive drinking and delinquent acts such as violence, theft and vandalism. Ten per cent of respondents checked off three or more of those categories.

"They have this conglomeration of problems," Beitchman said.

That 10 per cent statistic - which represents some 100,000 students provincewide - reinforces the need for psychiatric treatments that recognize that youth with mental-health problems often abuse substances and take part in anti-social activities, said Dr. Ed Adlaf, a co-author of the study.

"In the school, as well, there's a very good possibility that we should be looking at programs that are integrating drug prevention with violence prevention and health and lifestyle (issues)," he said.

While the survey targeted Ontario teens, Adlaf said some of the statistics concerning drug use and incidents of depression are comparable to national figures.

So what's stressing these kids out and keeping them up at night?

"Very often, it's family and school," said Adlaf. The teen years can be volatile ones, with young people seeking independence from parents while facing a host of stressors, including prospects for the future based on academic achievement and burgeoning romantic lives.

"They are very attuned and sensitive to all these kinds of issues," said Beitchman. "If they don't feel they're doing well enough, and unfortunately a lot of them feel that way, it weighs heavily on them."

The survey found that 11 per cent of students had visited a mental-health professional at least once in the previous year. Twelve per cent had entertained serious thoughts of suicide, with significantly more females (17 per cent) reporting such thoughts than males (eight per cent).

While 33 per cent reported being bullied at school, 30 per cent admitted to being a bully. Grade 11 students reported the highest incidence of multiple mental-health problems, at 15 per cent, but Beitchman said the seeds of that discontent are sown much earlier.

"These are typically problems that are long in the making," he said. "They may be below the radar before that, but once they hit adolescence they . . . come out in full force."

Among the underlying risk factors for troubled kids presented in the study is a poor relationship with parents.

Some 57 per cent of kids said they get along "very well" with their parents. Incidentally, 52 per cent checked off none of the four mental-health indicator categories.

Thirty-eight per cent said they got along "OK" with mom and dad, while five per cent reported they didn't get along at all with their parents.

Beitchman cautions that there aren't any simple solutions.

"These kids need support in a lot of different ways: support for their mental-health concerns, help so they can feel more confident, and have people that they can rely upon and talk to," he said.

They also need opportunities to move past risky behaviours.

"The danger is that it's going to get worse and the problems are going to become more serious," said Beitchman. "As these individuals have children of their own, there's an increased risk that they will pass on some of the same problems."