More frequent behavioral problems, drug and alcohol abuse

NOS / Jeroen van Eijndhoven

NOS . News

Sleep problems, nervousness, fear and insomnia: Young adults aged 11-16 have had (a lot) more than before with these types of complaints in the past four years. In a report on the health and well-being of Dutch students, researchers concluded that girls in particular suffered from mental problems between 2017 and 2021.

According to Marlus Klingan, Professor of Youth Mental Health Promotion at Utrecht University and Head of the Youth Program at the Trimbos Institute, there may be several explanations for this. But first of all, you’d like to say that girls in general always score worse than boys in terms of mental health. “They are relatively more likely to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, pressure to perform, and stress at school.”

More need for social contact

The Corona crisis has exacerbated these complaints – among all students, and especially among girls. Klingan knows that “young people indicate that they have experienced a lack of communication and communication during the time of Corona.” “And girls usually need this more than boys: they are more attached, for example, to their friends. Due to the corona measures, they had to miss this social support for a long time.”

Feelings of insecurity also plays a role, Klingan says, which affects girls more than boys. “This translates to the pressure of performance and the stress of school for them.” These complaints increased due to Corona, because many students missed classes and could not follow the lessons online either.

Klingan, who also conducts research in youth well-being, mentions another component in which girls have scored “higher” scores in the past four years than before: alcohol and drug abuse, behavioral problems and hyperactivity.

“Previously, we’ve seen this kind of problem more often in boys than in girls in general,” she says. Research shows that this picture is changing quite a bit.

More rebellious than before, aura

For example, in secondary education, 42 percent of girls and 32 percent of boys reported symptoms of hyperactivity and attention problems in the past year. There is no longer a difference between boys and girls in terms of alcohol and drug use.

“Girls are kind of catching up,” Klingan concludes, and is quick to say that the word actually sounds very positive. She says it’s hard to pinpoint where the “catch-up” comes from. The consequences of the Corona crisis may also play a role here.

“We hear from the teachers that the students’ behavior has already changed. They seem to be more rebellious and find it more difficult to fit in in a group.” This applies to both boys and girls, by the way.

performance pressure

The question is to what extent students’ mental health will improve again now that the Corona crisis is (largely) over. According to the researchers, the coronavirus has only fostered an ongoing development for some time: the increased pressure to perform at school.

“This pressure to perform is mirrored everywhere,” says Professor Klingan in Utrecht. “Schools, for example, are judged on the basis of their success rate. This affects parents, who want the best for their children. So if you want to address this pressure to perform, you as a society have to have a broad discussion: What do we do I think is important that Cognitively excel or be good at our skin?

For students who are experiencing mental issues as a result of stress, it’s important to keep talking about it, says Klingan. “It is especially important for them to know that if you feel that your parents are contributing to the stress.” Of course, it’s hard for a 14-year-old to start that conversation, but according to Klingan: “Parents are often more open to discussing this than young people might think.”

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