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Revealed: Significant numbers of young people in Northern Ireland worry about their mental health

40% of girls, 31% of boys, have concerns

By Sue Doherty

Significant numbers of 11-16-year-olds in Northern Ireland are concerned about their mental health, according to a government report.

The Young Persons Behaviour & Attitudes Survey (YPBAS) shows that 40% of girls and 31% of boys have concerns about their mental health.

A total of 6,831 schoolchildren aged 11-16 completed the survey between October and December 2016. The research was conducted by the Central Survey Unit of NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

The number of students reporting mental health concerns rose from 18% in Year 8 to 53% in Year 12, according to the report.

While 65% of all students surveyed said they didn't have any concerns, 24% said they did "to some extent" while 11% said "yes, definitely".

More than half (61%) of the young people who said they had concerns about their mental health also stated that they did not turn to anyone else for help about their concerns.

Of these, 60% said "I could handle things on my own", while 28% "felt unable to speak with anyone" and 27% were "too embarrassed".

Of those seeking help, 73% turned to a family member, 42% to a friend, 24% to a GP and 22% to a member of staff at school.

'Exam pressure and stress'

Aware is one of the best known charities helping people in Northern Ireland deal with depression and other mental health issues.

Michelle Byrne of Aware said: "Suicide is the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 in the UK, with Northern Ireland having the highest rates of suicide in the UK.”

She added: “It is important that we look out for our young people, particularly at this time of year when they are clearly under a great deal of pressure and stress as they await their exam results.”

Through Aware’s Mood Matters programme for 14-18-year-olds, the charity learns first hand about the difficulties young people face.

“Young people present a number of issues to us including depression, anxiety and self-harm," Ms Byrne explained.

“There is a lot of pressure on young people with exams and the pressure at times is so significant that it can lead to depression and suicide.

“Our young people are calling out for support and often talk about not knowing where to go, or who to tell because of the pressure they are feeling to succeed.”

When asked how concerned parents and friends can help, Ms Byrne gave the following advice: “Being aware of the signs and symptoms of depression and talking to young people about mental illness is very important in ensuring a safe environment for them to open up if they are struggling.

“We would advise parents and guardians to talk to young people about how they are feeling, particularly if they notice a difference in their mood eating or sleeping habits.” 

For more information on coping with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, visit AwareNI or ring Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.

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