The effect of stress on young people

This month is National Stress Awareness Month, a campaign set up to raise awareness of the growing impact stress has on society and outline the ways in which people affected can seek support. This is an especially important initiative for our sectors and we welcome centres to join us in supporting this awareness month.

Understandably, young people are feeling anxious, stressed and sad about the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with charity Childline receiving over 300 calls in almost two months regarding concerns about the virus. Stress over the world around us is increasingly a contributing factor to anxiety and other mental health problems in children.

Changing pressures on young people

Most of us have heard the age-old cliché, ‘school years are the best days of your life’, but in today’s world, it is unlikely that many young people would agree. Growing up has never been easy, but the pressures that young people face are always changing.

Over a million young people in the UK have a diagnosable mental health problem, many of these caused by stress, and the vast majority aren’t able to easily access mental health support from the NHS.

Rising stress in learners

School leaders have reported a rise in stress in their learners, and this has led to a number of them suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health issues.

The question is – why are young people today so stressed? An online survey of 18-24 year olds, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, found that 60% of respondents have felt so stressed by pressure to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Body image and appearance was a cause of stress for 47% of people, and 57% were stressed by the fear of making mistakes.

Stressed from a young age

These worries are likely to have stemmed from much earlier years, and Barnardo’s carried out research with 12-16 year olds to get a greater understanding of the factors causing stress in this age group. Concerningly, a staggering 83% of 16 year olds admitted to being stressed, and the most cited reason was ‘worry about their futures’ (80%).

For 65%, school was the main cause of stress. Other answered ‘problems at home’, ‘their weight’ and ‘being bullied’. Social media was also a concern for children, including worries about getting enough ‘likes’ or responses, online bullying or troubles about something they had seen on various social media channels.

It was even reported that one in five 8-16 year olds have nightmares about the state of the world – specifically climate change and disease. This takes us back to the earlier point which referenced the rising levels of stress felt by young people in the midst of a global health pandemic.

A mental health epidemic

Rising stress levels contribute to the mental health epidemic that is now affecting young people. Half of all adult mental health problems appear before the age of 14, and 75% of lifetime mental conditions are present by the age of 24. Common mental health problems in young people include anxiety, depression, bipolar and eating disorders.

Most people who experience mental health problems recover fully, or are able to live with and manage them, especially if they get help early. It is important to recognise the benefits of early intervention and the successes associated with such information.

The role of educators

Educators are in a prime position to spot the signs of stress and mental health problems in young people and through providing support, they can help to address and mitigate mental health issues early on.

CACHE offers a range of CPD qualifications in understanding mental health and mental health awareness, to provide educators with the knowledge and tools to spot the signs of stress and mental health issues. For more details on our Level 2 Certificate in Understanding Children and Young People’s Mental Health, visit our QualHub website.

We have also created a useful handbook to help educators create and maintain a healthy environment in the classroom, and promote positive mental health and wellbeing of learners. Download our free handbook from our website.

Originally published on 25th April 2019, updated on 31 March 2020.