Teachers can help nip mental illness in the bud

September 23, 2017 - 06:20

Young people who are struggling sometimes conceal these troubles from their families. Teachers have a better chance catching the first signs of mental illnesses in children and adolescents, according to a new Norwegian study.

Treating adolescents with anxiety problems is a good way of preventing mental illness, conclude the researchers behind a recent Norwegian study. (Photo: Shutterstock / NTB scanpix)

Young people who suffer from health related poor quality of life often function better within their families than at school or when together with friends, according to a new study based on questionnaires on mental health answered by 1,700 adolescents from various parts of Norway. 

Parents are often the first to realise that their children have mental problems but this is not always easy to detect within the home, according to the study.

“If the parents don’t directly observe situations where adolescents are troubled or inhibited by anxiety symptoms, it can be a challenge for them to recognise this as a problem,” says Solfrid Raknes at the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare, RKBU West, in a press release from UniResearch.

She is one of the researchers behind the new study published in the journal “Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health”.

Many young people have mental issues

The researchers found that having various anxiety problems were linked to a reduced health-related quality of life.

It’s important to redouble efforts to improve mental health and prevent mental illness by detecting adolescents with anxiety problems, conclude the researchers.

Up to 15–20 percent of children and adolescents aged three to 18 are inhibited by mental problems such as anxiety, depression and behavioural disorders, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The use of antidepressants by young people aged 15 to 19 rose 44 percent among boys between the years 2004 to 2013 and by 48 percent among girls in the same period.

In cooperation with schools

According to the press release from UniResearch – about the findings – it looks like anxiety symptoms among adolescents often materialize at school.

Fear reactions are experienced by many in their youth. These can be triggered by everything from actual risky situations to performance anxiety regarding school assignments or sports. The range of these problems in a general adolescent population include obsessions/compulsions, social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, separation anxiety, physical injury fears, generalised anxiety, and posttraumatic stress.

But fear reactions are not necessarily unhealthy – they are part of pulling oneself together or getting psyched up. But extensive or lingering fear can also be the start of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders, according to the researchers.

“Identifying and helping anxious adolescents are important for reducing the burden of the anxiety disorders,” says Raknes.

She and her colleagues think teachers can be pivotal in detecting adolescent anxieties and schools and educators should be involved in initiatives to help pupils with problems – not just the parents.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling