A new study conducted by researchers at the University of St Andrews has revealed a broadening gender gap in perceived mental health and health behaviours in teenagers.
The principal investigator, Dr Candace Currie of the child and adolescent research unit at St Andrews, recently reported the main findings of the study at the health behaviour in school-aged children (HBSC) 2014 national report launch in Edinburgh.
Speaking about the research, Dr Currie said: “We have observed concerning changes in teenage girls’ mental health, especially over the past four years.
“In 2014 15 year old girls are around twice as likely as boys to re- port irritability, nervousness and low mood.”
This large scale national study is meant to provide extensive information about the health and risk behaviours, wellbeing, sexual health and social context of Scottish youth today, and to shed light on socioeconomic and gender differences.
The study also provides trends across a 24 year period by gathering information from more than 10,000 pupils.
The key findings point to an in- creasing gender gap in mental health concerns, with girls being more likely to report feeling pressured, having low levels of confidence and not feeling happy. The difference is most significant for 15 year olds.
The study also found that teen- agers’ diets tend to be healthier than in the past. Nevertheless, less than 20 per cent of young people exercise enough to meet daily physical activity requirements.
Once again, 15 year old girls en- gage in physical activity less than boys and younger girls.
Several risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking, bullying and fighting have decreased.
However, the increased use of electronic media has made cyberbullying a rising concern.
Gender differences were also found in adolescents’ experience with sexual activity, but the overall numbers of teenagers who reported being sexually active has decreased.
Socioeconomic status also seems to play a role in youth social and mental health, according to the report. Children from affluent families are more likely to report that their health is excellent, while children from families with a lower socioeconomic status report more psychological complaints.
Dr Currie’s team hopes that their current study will have significant implications for better understanding and addressing issues in youth health.