Stress-related illnesses study prompts concern for teenagers' mental health

Children as young as 12 are being struck down with illnesses because they are so stressed regarding decisions about their futures, according to a study.

Stress-related illnesses have been spotted in teenagers facing a range of important decisions such as A-level choices, whether to go to university and which career path to choose, according to a study of 1,000 teenagers by the National Citizen Service (NCS).

Some 88% of 12 to 18-year-olds said they had felt stressed in the past 12 months and two-thirds of cases said they reacted with tell-tale symptoms in insomnia, eating disorders, depression and by lashing out at friends and relatives.

Studying and doing well at school triggered stress in 81% of teenagers while making decisions about their future unsettled 35%.

Arguing with friends was stressful for 30% while family disputes upset 29% and finding a boyfriend or girlfriend was named by 20% for their stress levels.

Trying to looking good on social media was blamed by 15% as a stress trigger while 14% did not want to disappoint their parents and 13% were being affected by their efforts to be popular at school.

Avoiding bullying was stressful for 12% of youngsters.

Even at this relatively young age, 11% of teenagers said they were worried about money troubles.

All of this brought out an unattractive side in many teenagers including 33% who said they showed signs of anxiety or worrying excessively, it was found.

Biting their nails more than usual was a give away that they were suffering from stress, according to 28%, while 21% said it was by their shutting themselves off from family or friends.

Disrupted sleep patterns was recalled by 20% while 15% said they felt ill or unwell.

Some 16% of teenagers recalled lashing out or falling out with friends and family while the same number said they ate less than usual - the same number who said they could feel they were showing signs of depression and could not see any way out.

Stomach upsets or posting frustrated messages on social media were the way that 13% of teenagers reacted.

Rather than talking to their parents, teenagers prefer to distract themselves from the pressure they were under by watching YouTube or browsing Facebook, with many choosing to deal with stress alone.

Natasha Kizzie, of the NCS Trust, said the start of the new academic year was particularly challenging for 16 and 17-year-olds as they lay the foundations for their future.

She said: "With school work piling up and exam pressure growing, it can be difficult for both teens and their parents to take a step back and truly feel empowered to make the right decisions for them."

Lucie Russell, campaigns director at YoungMinds mental health charity which has seen a 58% increase of calls to its parents helpline in the past two years, said: "We should not underestimate the huge amount of pressure young people are facing, especially at this time of year which brings the uncertainties that come with a new academic year.

"Not only has social media added new complexities to their daily lives but looming, uncertain futures just add to this stress.

"As this research from NCS shows, excessive stress and pressure impact negatively on young people's mental health.

"We need to ensure young people are equipped with the skills to deal with these pressures and to navigate positive paths into adulthood."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "The best schools create a happy, safe and supportive environment so that all children can fulfil their potential.

"We are promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools so children can thrive both inside and out the classroom. Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and all schools must have measures in place to tackle it."

He also said the aim should be that young people are only entered for tests when they are truly ready and be helped with career decisions so they can be supported in making an informed choice about their futures.