Each year we get the State of the Nation report for Children and Young People’s Wellbeing and Happiness.
The good news is that most children are happy with their lives, but equally, we see a slight annual increase in rates of unhappiness even though the overall picture is relatively stable.
What stands out from this year’s report (also in 2018) is the higher rate of emotional disorders reported by girls aged 17-19 who have a 22.4% prevalence compared to 7.9% of boys.
Girls reported higher levels of anxiety than boys. Children and young people become less happy as they get older and this trend continues into the mid-twenties. The most unhappy adolescents are girls between the ages of 13 and 15.
Bullying, including online bullying, is the single most significant risk factor for both boys and girls when it comes to a sense of well-being, but social media use was not significantly related to psychological health. Notably, the effects of being bullied were eight times larger. The report shows that about 17% of children and adolescents are bullied and that rates are higher in females.
Protective factors are similar across age and gender, the most significant being seeing friends, getting enough sleep, and feeling safe in their neighbourhood (particularly for young teenage girls). Additional factors included rates of physical exercise, liking school and supportive family relationships. High locus of control contributed to a greater sense of well-being and self-worth. Household income was related to lower well-being but not significantly or consistently.
These results point towards the importance of family relationships, the need to support children and young people’s well-being by reducing environmental stress and supporting positive relationships.
Bullying is more prevalent where there is stigma, which means that children of parents with a mental illness are more vulnerable than others. There are 3.7 million children living with a parent with a mental illness but they are hidden and suffer in silence because they do not want to be ‘seen’.
Let’s look at what we can do to support them in school and in the wider environment so that they too can be counted in the numbers of children that are happy in their day-to-day lives.